vanshnookenraggen Thu, 21 Sep 2017 02:54:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 vanshnookenraggen 32 32 128861411 Boston MBTA System Track Map: A Complete and Geographically Accurate [UPDATE] Tue, 15 Aug 2017 09:44:13 +0000

Boston MBTA System Track Map

Large format prints are available at my store.

I was more than a little surprised by the response from the NYC Subway Track Map. The feedback was overwhelming and I want to thank all the railfans and transit nerds out there who contacted me with corrections. So with that in mind I am happy to announce the next map in what will certainly be a popular series, the Complete and Geographically Accurate Boston MBTA Subway Track Map. Like the NYC Map the Boston Map shows the tracks (and in some cases non-tracked tunnels) of every line in the MBTA system.

Unlike New York the Boston subway system (oldest in the US!) has a long history of detailed track maps throughout the ages. As a far less complex system I feel like the Boston Elevated Railroad (the company which ran the subway from 1989 until 1947) used the track map as a marketing tool so riders would have a clearer sense of where they were going. When the MBTA was created in 1964 it chose to modernize wayfinding (much as the MTA did in New York in the 1970s) by creating a color coded line system which gave rise to the Red, Blue, Orange, and Green Lines we know today. As part of that modernization system maps became more striped down and cartoonish as we know them today.

A cartoonish MTA system map showing tracks and stations from the 1950s.

The purpose of my map is to do away with simplification and see the system for what it is with all tracks, revenue and non-revenue alike, along with train yards and, of course, abandoned sections. It was my time growing up in Boston hearing about the abandoned tunnels and unbuilt lines which gave rise to my love of urban planning, transit, and ultimately the creation of this website. So you could say this map is a bit of a home coming; going full circle.

Transit in Boston is more nuanced than in other cities as it has a large variety of options: heavy rail, light rail (including streetcars), trackless trolleys, BRT, and commuter rail (there are also ferries but these aren’t included in the map). The Green Line was part of the first subway in the United States and over the years has seen the most change. Once a vast multitude of streetcars ran through the Tremont St subway but as buses replaced them the lines were cut back to the four we know today. Some streetcars were converted to electric buses, known as trackless trolleys, and a small network still remains in Cambridge. Once the Orange Line was elevated from Forest Hills to Everett with a branch running along Atlantic Ave but over the last century the elevated sections were replaced by modern subways. As the T expanded in the latter half of the 20th century many of the old steam railroads became cheaper alternatives than digging new tunnels and many of the subway extensions built after World War 2 utilized these paths. Commuter rail, too, has had a remarkable comeback after private railroads started to collapse with the rise of the car. Boston can boast greater transit coverage for a city of its size than almost any other American city.


The reaction to the first version of this map was mixed, to say the least, and many people asked about the commuter rail. I went back and decided that just showing the subways didn’t paint a true enough picture of transit in Boston so I have released version 2 which adds both Commuter Rail and the Trackless Trolleys that run from Harvard Sq. I also added many of the abandoned steam railroad rights of way.

Large format prints are available at my store.

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The Future of the 2nd Avenue Subway Thu, 25 May 2017 14:01:25 +0000 On December 31, 2016 the first phase of the long awaited 2nd Ave Subway opened from 63rd St/Lexington Av to 96th St/2nd Av. Jaded New Yorkers, exhausted by nearly a decade of construction work, made their way down through the new stations to marvel at the accomplishment. The Great White Whale of New York transit lore had finally been bested and we were lost in the moment, celebrating the fact that the city had fulfilled a promise nearly 90 years old. But after the euphoria died down and commuters began to adjust to the new line the inevitable question of “what’s next” came up.

Proposed design for 125th St Station in Phase 2 of 2nd Ave. Taken from EIS.

Planning for Phase 2, from 96th St/2nd Av to 125th St/Lexington Av has begun but construction isn’t planned to start until after 2019 because funding was cut by Governor Andrew Cuomo from the 2015-2019 budget. Currently engineering work is being done along with utility relocation for Phase 2. Phase 2 also will reuse the original tunnels built in the 1970s from 96th St north to 120th St. The 1970s plan, oddly, did not include a station at 116th St but instead had space for a third track for layups and maintenance; this space is now being planned for an infill station at 116th St. North of 120th St the line will make a broad curve west under 125th St (supposedly with provisions for an extension north to the Bronx) and will terminate at a station several stories below the existing 125th St Station on the Lexington Av Line and an exit connecting to the elevated Metro-North station at Park Ave. Even with the reuse of the existing tunnels the current price tag is around $6 billion which has given many pause since Phase 1, which did included new tunnels, clocked in at $4.5 billion. Should Phase 2 actually cost what it is projected it would be the most expensive subway line in the world out shining the current champion, Phase 1 of 2nd Av.

While cost is on everyone’s mind there is at least momentum to get Phase 2 built. The same cannot be said for Phases 3 and 4. What may come as a shock to riders is that the MTA does not actually see the last two phases as a priority. Their mentality is that the crowding on the Lexington Av Line is worst along the Upper East Side and that south of 63rd St there are more options for riders and less need for a new trunk line. The MTA cannot be totally faulted for this mentality, after all they are primarily in the business of running trains, not urban planning, and their primary concern is dealing with existing congestion so trains run smoother and safer. When the New York City Transit Authority ran the subways before 1968 it was part of the city and beholden to the Mayor which meant there was more pressure to expand to serve new areas. When the MTA was created in 1968 it was a state agency so their onus for city planning was reduced. Since then the MTA has been focused more on maintaining the crumbling system rather than expanding it.

Conceptual track map of Phase 1 and 2 of 2nd Ave Subway. Taken from EIS.

Phase 1 of 2nd Av was designed so that it could directly connect to the existing system, rather than an entire separate line, and show the city that it could actually be built. This was a political decision and ultimately a wise one as it has had a direct positive impact on subway crowding already. But going forward it is becoming increasingly clear that the division between city and state needs is now starting to have long term consequences when it comes to 2nd Av and the future of transit in NYC.

The 2nd Av Subway planned in 1947 would have tied together existing lines in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and new lines in Queens.

The underlying fault of the current iteration of the 2nd Ave Subway is that it’s being designed as a single entity when every other line in the system, and the original concept for the 2nd Ave Subway, were all designed as parts of a larger network. The NYC Subway works differently than most other subway around the world with a trunk/branch system. The trunk/branch system is not unique to NYC but what is unique is that NYC has multiple trunks that interface with one another via reverse branching. When originally planned in the first half of the 20th Century the 2nd Ave Subway was part of the IND system, the A/B/C/D/E/F/G lines built by the city. When the city took over the other two private companies in 1940 (the IRT and BMT) and merged all three there was an opportunity to connect the trunk lines in new ways. In 1967 the Chrystie St Connection was the largest of these changes and originally was designed as the southern end of the 2nd Ave Subway. In theory a rider coming from Brooklyn could enter the subway and take one of three trains which would have run up Broadway, 6th Av, or 2nd Av.

As costs rose and construction of new subways sputtered out the scope of 2nd Av was reduced further and further. In the 1970s when shovels started turning earth the concept was whittled down to a two track line with fewer stations for faster service. There would be a transfer at Grand St so riders coming from Brooklyn could reach 2nd Av and a branch to Queens via the new 63rd St Tunnel planned as a super express line out to Forest Hills. In this concept at least the needs of riders coming from Brooklyn and Queens were addressed. In 1999 the Environmental Impact Statement for the current concept of 2nd Av was produced and updated in 2004. This lost the line to Queens since the super express line had been scrapped long ago (though the track connection would be built to the 63rd St Tunnel) and altered the Grand St transfer from a cross platform transfer to adding a new platform two levels below the existing station; the reasoning being that building a cross platform transfer would disrupt the neighborhood too greatly due to cut-and-cover construction. In its current form transfers from Brooklyn will require two sets of stairs and there will be no line to Queens, the borough in greatest need of congestion relief. Phase 4 plans on extending the line south to Hanover Sq with tracks turned towards Brooklyn should a new tunnel be proposed. But due to the location of Phase 4 the new line won’t allow for transfers to any downtown stations with access to Brooklyn. What this means in reality is that we plan on building the most expensive subway in the world that will help far fewer New Yorkers than it possibly could all because a state agency prioritizes a narrow definition of service over the needs of the total system.

Current proposal for Phase 4 of 2nd Ave showing the Deep Chrystie Alternative.

It is probably, then, a blessing in disguise that Phase 1 and 2 have cost so much and taken so long. The current plan for 2nd Av was finalized in 2004 (with adjustments as construction costs rose) with Phase 1 opening 12 years later. With everything learned from Phase 1 I’m optimistic that Phase 2 could be done in half the time. But that would mean the first half of the subway took close to 20 years to build. Today subway delays and crowding is at an all-time high and ridership is the highest it has even been. The projections from the EIS, currently 13 years old, need to be discarded. Phase 1 and 2 lack express tracks due to the limitations of the tunnels built in the 1970s. This kind of poor forethought needs to be avoided for Phase 3/4 which by the time they might reasonably be started will need to be totally rethought.

Conceptual track map of Phase 3 and 4 of 2nd Av Subway. Taken from EIS.

The current plans for Phase 3 are as such: at 55th St an island platform station, north of which two sets of tracks split with one continuing to 72nd St and the other curving east to connect to the 63rd St Tunnel; south of 55th St the line is two tracks with island platform stations at 42nd St, 34th St, 23rd St, 14th St, and E Houston St; between 9th St and 20th St is planned for an additional two non-revenue tracks outside the revenue tracks for storage. Phase 4 continues the two track line south of Houston St, curving around and below the existing Chrystie St tunnels with a new platform two levels below the existing Grand St station; curving west to Chatham Sq (an existing tunnel built in the 1970s will not be used for tracks because of the new depth planned but instead be used to ancillary utilities), and then continuing south to Hanover Sq with an intermediate station at Fulton St/Seaport. Plans for a bi-level terminal at Hanover Sq were scaled back to a single island platform and tail tracks pointing towards Brooklyn.

It is obvious that this is the leanest plan possible and allows for limited connectivity with the existing network. The bare bones plan wastes the potential that a new trunk line provides. But this plan deals with the reality that building through midtown Manhattan will be far more complex than along the UES where much less existing underground infrastructure exists. The costs for Phase 3/4 will be huge due to the complexity of the project but it is far worse to design something ineffective because it will be cheaper than to make a greater investment that will return more dividends to the city in the long run.

Subway planners need not look far for a better alternative. In 1940 the IND 6th Av Line opened to the public as one of the most complex subway projects ever undertaken in NYC and the last new major trunk line. Built to replace the 6th Ave El, which kept running above as construction took place, the subway had to be built around three existing lines including the Hudson & Manhattan Tubes (today the PATH) which were already running below 6th Av. Construction took 5 years and cost $59,500,000 in 1940, $1,034,783,763 in today’s dollars (based on conversion from Because of the existing H&M tubes the express tracks were only built from 53rd St south to 34th St and at W 4th St Station. The 6th Av Line was designed to be integrated into the IND system with connections to the existing 8th Av, Queens Blvd, Crosstown, and Fulton St Lines. Provisions were built into the line for future integration with the 2nd Av Line as well (which was built as part of the 63rd St Tunnel and is in use today by the F and Q trains). In the 1960s as part of the Chrystie St Connection the express tracks were built between 34th St and W 4th St so that express trains could connect to the Manhattan Bridge. It was the foresight of subway planners that future connections would be needed when ridership increased and money became available. It is with this as a guide that present subway planners need to rework the future of the 2nd Av Subway so it can make a larger impact on the subway network as a whole.

Full system track map with proposed changes to 2nd Av Subway plan.

What is needed is to design Phase 3 to be as lean as possible but also allow for future expansion for the addition of express tracks and provisions for a new tunnel to Queens should the need arise. The most important section of 2nd Av that needs to be redesigned is in Midtown East, stations at 55th and 42nd Streets. 55th St is a bit of a misnomer since it will most likely have an entrance at 57th St but the reason for locating the station further south than, say, 59th St is due to the need for the junction with the 63rd St Tunnel. The new 55th St Station will feature two island platforms and four tracks, something planned in the 1970s proposal but dropped in the 2004 EIS. North of the station, between 57th and 61st streets will be a six track cavern: the outer most tracks will continue north and connect to the existing 2nd Av Subway with bellmouth provisions for future express tracks to the Bronx, the middle tracks will drop down to connect with the 63rd St Tunnel and the innermost tracks will be used for layups and storage and can also be connected to the existing 2nd Av tunnels to the north. The reason for the layup tracks is so that any future service coming in from Brooklyn can terminate in midtown if there is no extra capacity north or to Queens. South of the station will be three double crossover switches to enable trains from Queens to terminate at 55th St if need be.

Proposed track map of 2nd Ave Subway Phase 3: 55 St Station.

42nd St Station will also feature two island platforms and four tracks but just south of the station the outer tracks merge with the inner tracks with provisions for future express tracks. Heading south 34th and 23rd St Stations will remain as island platforms, two track stations; when express tracks are built these will be bypassed. 14th St Station will remain the same as well but the additional layup tracks planned between 9th street and 20th street will be shifted south. The Houston St Station will be built with two island platforms but only two inner tracks; the outer trackways will be sealed off and the layup tracks planned at 14th street will be moved south between 3rd street and 14th streets.

Proposed track map of 2nd Ave Subway Phase 3: 42nd St Station.

Originally there was the option to connect 2nd Av to the Centre St Subway at Bowery Station but the proximity of the station to where the 2nd Av tunnels would be built would mean that the station couldn’t be used (and most likely would have to be demolished) and that the existing curves in the tunnel would be so tight that it would force 2nd Av trains to slow down considerably. The simplest solution would then be to rework the existing tunnels built for the Chrystie St Connection. The current express tracks (used by the B/D trains to reach the Manhattan Bridge) would be severed from 6th Av and connected directly to 2nd Av. This would only require digging under the northern section of Sara Roosevelt Park. 2nd Av trains would take over from the B/D with the planned T train taking over the D via 4th Av-West End to Coney Island and a second 2nd Av train, what I’ve labeled the H train in my map, using the 63rd St Tunnel to Queens, taking over the B to Brighton Beach. The express provisions would allow for a future expansion south of Grand St Station which would be more cost effective if it was to swing west under Park Row and then connect to the Nassau St Subway just south of Chambers St Station to allow for trains to use Nassau St and the Montague Tunnel to reach Brooklyn. Because of the way the provisions are designed the 2nd Av Subway would be flipped from the normal layout of trunk lines with express tracks on the outside and local tracks on the inside.

Proposed track map of 2nd Ave Subway Phase 3: 14 St Station with layup tracks.
Proposed track map of 2nd Ave Subway Phase 3: Lower East Side connecting 6th Av express tracks with the Williamsburg Bridge and 2nd Ave local tracks with the Manhattan Bridge.

This frees up capacity on 6th Av to be used to serve Williamsburg; the express tracks at 2nd Av Station were built for a future tunnel to Williamsburg but the service could be reimagined for cheaper. As ridership in north Brooklyn continues to rise and alternatives to the L train are few, rerouting the BMT Jamaica Line up 6th Av would be a boon for the area. The local tracks (used by the M train to connect with the Williamsburg Bridge) would be readjusted to connect to the express tracks of 6th Av east of Broadway-Lafayette St Station. Essex St Station would be altered so that the westbound platform and track is swapped allowing access to the center track (see diagram); this would allow for a new shuttle service to run off hours between Broad St and Essex St. B/D trains could now operate over the Williamsburg Bridge replacing the J/M/Z service; D trains to Broadway Junction and B trains to Metropolitan Av. This would be a separate project in and of itself in that it would require expanding the Broadway El stations for longer cars as well as rebuilding the Myrtle-Broadway interlocking to allow for more service; all of this would be a far cheaper alternative for expanding service to Bushwick and Bedford-Stuyvesant than building a new subway. Also freed up is the capacity along the 6th Av local, now used by the M train, which can now be used for express service along the Culver Line (labeled the V train in my map).

New flying junction at Myrtle-Broadway using abandoned upper level platform.
Proposed Montague-Fulton St Connection.

Service past Broadway Junction would need to be altered as well due to the curves at Crescent St and would involve a third project to add capacity along the IND Fulton St Subway. The Fulton Line runs at 50% capacity, max, because the four tracks are truncated into two to allow trains to navigate the Cranberry St Tubes. The two local tracks continue on to the decommissioned Court St Station (home of the NY Transit Museum) and plans from the 1930s called for using these tracks to connect to the 2nd Av Subway. Given current ridership levels the existing Montague Tunnel (used by the R in the day and N at night) runs well under capacity. If a connection between the two was built, in the same fashion as the 11th St Connection in Long Island City between the BMT 60th St Tunnel and the IND Queens Blvd Line, then the extra capacity on both lines could be taken advantage of. W trains, which now terminate at Whitehall St due to the lack of demand from south Brooklyn, could then be extended east through Fulton St. C trains could then run a flexible service running express at rush hour and local at other times (or opposite depending on demand as ridership has grown over the last 5 years along Fulton St).

New Broadway Junction: Elevated tracks along Jamaica Line removed between Fulton St and Jamaica Av; new flying junction built between IND Fulton Line with new two track subway under Jamaica Av.
New Jamaica Av Subway will connect to existing Jamaica Line elevated track via a new portal at Crescent St.
Detail view of new flying junction.

At Broadway Junction this new local service would allow for a branch off to replace the BMT Jamaica Line elevated structure along Fulton St and Crescent St. This new subway, along Jamaica Av to Crescent St where it would rise to meet the existing elevated track, would eliminate the slow curves at Crescent St and allow for faster service downtown for Jamaica riders. C trains would replace J/Z trains, through with the extra capacity some J trains could also run from Jamaica to Chamber St via Fulton St using the Nassau St connection within the Montague Tunnel. Service on the Broadway elevated, now used by B/D trains would terminate at Broadway Junction (or possibly Atlantic Av for an easier cross island transfer). This project would better serve the needs of north Brooklyn riders looking to reach Midtown as well as Jamaica riders who now no longer have to transfer at Broadway Junction for a faster ride downtown. L train riders coming from Canarsie have a better option in using 6th Av trains with the elimination of the very long transfer at Broadway Junction and can avoid the crowds at Bedford Av.

Proposed Rockaway Beach Branch connecting to IND Queens Blvd Line via existing provisions.
Rockaway Beach Branch connecting to existing Fulton St-Rockaway Line showing layup tracks and new flying junction.

Finally, in Queens, the addition of a 2nd Av train on Queens Blvd and the reduced need for the M line means that service can be better adjusted along the Queens Blvd Subway as well as the addition of the Rockaway Beach Branch. Depending on the needs of riders there are a variety of service options so as an example: 2nd Av trains are routed along 63rd St and local out to Rego Park where they branch off and head down to Rockaway, M trains are converted back to V express trains via 53rd St and out to Jamaica-179th St (taking over the few express E trains that use the terminal at rush hour). This way Queens Blvd riders have options for both east and west sides of Manhattan as well as additional express trains.

Future extensions in upper Manhattan and the Bronx must also be considered such as extending 2nd Av west to Broadway and building a new branch north. The original concept for 2nd Av was to allow better service along the 6 train by rerouting it down the express tracks of 2nd Av. With no express tracks this leaves the northern end of 2nd Av acting as a branch line rather than a trunk line. Without them it hardly makes sense to extend the line further north since it would require riders transfer from express trains to local trains when they could just stay on the express via Lexington Av. Adding provisions for future express tracks in Midtown would open up more options in the future such as finally replacing the 3rd Av El torn down in the 1970s or converting the 6 train to B Division and giving Pelham Bay riders a faster ride downtown.

Admittedly this plan will cost much more than the existing 2nd Ave Subway proposal and involve considerably more parts. But the point I’m trying to illustrate is that the current plan only helps residents along the east side of Manhattan get uptown or downtown a little better. It does almost nothing for riders from Queens and Brooklyn, to say nothing of the Bronx. Building strategic connections and reworking bottlenecks to open up capacity uses the new trunk line to its fullest potential. The plan I’ve created doesn’t even require full express tracks be built but does allow for them in the future should demand along 2nd Av for downtown service grow. Express tracks could then be built later (in the same way that it took 27 years to build express tracks on 6th Av) and new services added for demand we cannot today predict. Knowing how similar multi part projects have gone in the past (IND Second System, 1968 Program for Action) it’s wise to assume that some sections may not be built. But the point is to design the project so that one day they could be. Planners today are scared that they can’t get anything built that they don’t even bother to design their projects to full potential. The current transfers to 2nd Av require riders using multiple stairs and long corridors all because planners are too scared to design their stations properly, even if it means more disruptive construction. If the 2nd Ave Subway is not designed correctly then it will be the most expensive mistake since ramming highways through dense cities. The NYC Subway is littered with poor planning mistakes which have hampered service ever since; we need not make the same mistakes. Costs must be brought under control cost should not be an excuse to build a less effective subway line. Transit should be built where it’s most effective not where it’s cheapest to build.

Edit 5/28/2017: After discussion here and on social media I’ve created a second version which swaps the V and H trains. H trains now run down 6th Ave and V trains down 2nd Ave. V trains would take over from the B as Brighton Beach express but would face a bottleneck on Queens Blvd. Because of this the layup tracks at 55 St-2 Av would be even more important for extra service on Brighton Beach.

Interestingly the low V frequency on QB makes space available in the 63rd St Tunnel for rerouted R trains. As there is now 2nd Av service through 63rd St this deals with the issue of the loss of transfer at Lexington Av: R trains riders can switch at Roosevelt Island or 21 Av for east side service on the V!

Lastly, I took a look at Queens Plaza and with the addition of two new switches I finally figured out how G trains can terminate there instead! Just north of Court Sq (G) a double crossover can be installed and on the Manhattan bound tracks approaching Queens Plaza station the single crossover can be upgraded to a double. This separates terminating G trains on the outside, “local”, tracks and E/H trains on the inside. Riders coming from Brooklyn and wanting to continue to Queens can just walk straight across the platform and vise versa for riders coming from Queens going to Brooklyn.

See the alternative map here.

Note: This post is not a fully realized futureNYCSubway proposal but rather a plea for planners to reconsider what is being planned for 2nd Ave. I hope to show that with strategic connections the 2nd Ave Subway can have a wider ranging impact on the system as a whole. Growth in norther Brooklyn and southern Queens can now be better addressed by freeing up existing capacity. Unlike with the much broader futureNYCSubway maps this is a much more focused and realistic vision should the powers that be chose to change their plans.

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A Complete and Geographically Accurate NYC Subway Track Map Wed, 10 May 2017 23:17:33 +0000

A complete and geographically accurate NYC Subway track map. Click the image to download the PDF map.

Anyone who rides the subway is familiar with the standard subway map, a cartoon version of the real thing which is designed to aid the rider through their travels. The geography of the subway is such that there are places where many lines are close together which would clutter an accurate map which results in subway maps expanding these areas. The inverse is true in the outer boroughs where lines can be spaced further apart taking up extra space on a map so subway maps often condense these areas. Because of this designed distortion the subway map as we know it is more of a diagram: the important information like the color of lines and stations are there but the non essential details are distorted or removed. The subway map just has a simple line to indicate a train when in reality lines consist of a pair of tracks or more if there is express service; there are also crossover tracks so trains can switch tracks. Stations usually consist of multiple platforms, sometimes in odd configurations. But the simple subway map condenses this information to show subway lines as simple single colored lines and stations as simple dots.

To show a system map as it truly exists you need to find a track map. A track map is exactly what it sounds like, a map showing the individual tracks, crossovers, and station platforms as they really exist. Track maps are often drawn as simple schematics with straight lines for rails and boxes for station platforms. Most people would never have to use one and in fact their primary use is in control towers to display where trains are and which switches are thrown (therefore showing the route of a train). Because the control tower only needs to know where trains are and where they are going the track maps are even simpler than subway route maps.

For the subway buff there has been one track map that is considered dogma: Peter Dougherty’s system maps first published in 1996 (having since been updated by others) and available at as well as in print. Additionally Robert Marrero designed his own map called 472 Stations, 850 Miles with a cleaner design ethos using 90 and 45 degree angles. In my monk-like research into all things unbuilt I have also found may fan sketches of sections of the subway to show proposed lines. But all of these maps left me wanting; they are still diagrams that have no accurate geography to understand where the trains, tracks, and stations really are.

As I am always tinkering with ideas to expand the subway I found these inaccuracies too limiting and set out to draw my own track map as accurate as possible. Collecting every historical map I could find, using GIS data, satellite imagery (both current and historic), YouTube videos of fan trips, my own observations looking out the window of trains through tunnels, and talking to retired track workers I was able to draw what I believe to be the most accurate track map of the NYC Subway ever. Features I’ve added to the map are all provisions for future expansion and abandoned sections with a notes section explaining each one as well as an exploded view for the more complex stations and areas obscured by overlapping tracks. I’ve elected to remove all streets as not to clutter the map and also not to imply that specific sections (such as crossovers) are perfectly aligned to the street grid. While the map is geographically accurate at this scale tracks had to be spaced far enough apart to read correctly so lines are not perfect aligned with the widths of the streets. Also some train yards have been truncated to fit within the geographical boundaries of the map.

Service key with inset exploded views.
Close up of Coney Island with yard.
Close up of Queens Blvd showing provisions for future expansion.
Close up of lower Manhattan.

As I’ve striven to be as accurate as possible given what I can find any additional corrections or insight is welcomed. Please leave me a comment here or email me at

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Should there even be a One Seat Ride to the Airport? Mon, 13 Feb 2017 15:01:32 +0000
Rendering of proposed LaGuardia AirTrain

Continuing on his infrastructure grand tour Governor Andrew Cuomo announced last month that he was proposing a $10 billion overhaul of JFK Airport. Included in the proposal are plans for expanding the Van Wyck Expressway (how “green” of him) and finding ways to expand and improve the AirTrain. From the report’s website:

Increase the capacity from two to four cars per train and increase its frequency – These changes would allow the AirTrain to roughly double its capacity and handle more than 40 million passengers annually.
Improve the east of connection from the Subway or LIRR by top-to-bottom rebuild of interconnections at Jamaica and Sutphin Blvd – Completely overhaul the subway and Long Island Railroad connection to the JFK AirTrain. These improvements would include essential modern amenities such as high-performance elevators and escalators, charging stations and expanded walkways. A modernized mezzanine will create simpler navigation and smoother transfers to the AirTrain including improved wayfinding and LED flight status screens. Images of the transformed Jamaica Station and AirTrain connection can be found here.

That sounds affordable and effective. But the next line is what really grabbed transit activists:

Explore the feasibility of one seat ride to JFK – JFK is one of the only major airports in the world that does not offer travelers a one seat ride from its city center. Therefore, the panel recommends that the MTA and its partners jointly explore the feasibility of a one-seat ride to JFK.

A one seat ride from an airport to a city center is considered best practices for developed countries. Transit access in general is considered a basic necessity for airports but this is something that American cities leave as an afterthought. LAX is famously impossible to get to via the Metro even though the Green Line terminates relatively close. NYC had subway plans in the works for connections to Floyd Bennett Field (before LaGuardia built his own airport) and when the IND Queens Blvd subway was built provisions were added for a line down Van Wyck Blvd which could have easily been extended to then Idlewild Airport (today JFK Airport) until Robert Moses chose to build an expressway instead. In the 1990s plans were floated to extend the N train to LaGuardia but were shot down by local politicians. The MTA once ran the Train-to-the-Plane but this proved unpopular given the need to transfer to a bus at Howard Beach. The Port Authority built the AirTrain, which opened in 2003, and has proved much more successful even though it still requires a transfer from the subway or LIRR.

MTA Plan for Mass Transit 1969, 1971 showing alternative proposals for JFK connections.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s the newly formed MTA proposed sending the LIRR to JFK via the abandoned Rockaway Branch and even a branch of the LIRR through Baisley Pond Park in South Jamaica. Even as the Port Authority was designing the AirTrain there were proposals to extend it to lower Manhattan via the LIRR Atlantic Branch and then over the Manhattan Bridge or via a new tunnel. These proposals had high price tags and would have had a negative impact on existing subway service.

RPA One Seat Ride Options to JFK

Right after the Governor made this announcement the Regional Plan Association put out a colorful breakdown of various one seat ride options which Alon Levy did a very good job of ripping apart. I’m not here to repeat everything he said but rather throw a couple ideas out.


NYC Program for Mass Transit Map 1969 showing LIRR to JFK Airport

As New York has bounced back from 9/11 the growth of subway and LIRR ridership has meant that more and more commuters are coming up against more and more tourists (with their luggage) in ever packed train cars. There is no doubt that better transit is needed but the idea that we need to invest billions of dollars to give tourists a smoother trip into the city seems completely misplaced. I also question the very idea that we need to have a one seat ride to JFK Airport considering the size of NYC. Governor Cuomo has received many donations from the hotel industry in the city which is why he has supported legislation clamping down on AirBNB. No doubt it is the hotel lobby which is also pushing for a one seat ride to ferry tourists and business travelers directly from the airport into their hotel rooms as seamlessly as possible. In essence a one seat ride to the airport is a give away to the hotel industry while citizens of the city see only packed trains with increasing fares. And a one seat ride in this case means a one seat ride to midtown Manhattan which completely overlooks the needs of travelers coming or going ANYWHERE ELSE IN THE CITY OR REGION. AirBNB isn’t going anywhere which means travelers have more options for lodging and therefore will always need to have a multiple seat ride to/from the airport.

I like the idea of the AirTrain as it serves its purpose very well. Getting to the AirTrain via the A, E, or LIRR can difficult for locals as well as travelers and segregating travelers (and their luggage) from everyday commuters would free up space on trains which can be packed at all hours of the day. But getting the AirTrain into Manhattan would prove to be far more costly than it’s worth. The AirTrain was supposedly designed to allow it to run on the LIRR tracks with the same rail gauge and third rail power. This means that sending the AirTrain to Manhattan via the LIRR would be the most obvious answer except that LIRR runs 10 car trains at high speeds while AirTrains run at 60mph max and usually have only 2 cars per train. Connecting the AirTrain to the LIRR and sending it to Penn Station would be a logistical nightmare for LIRR trains. The alternative option of having full length LIRR cars serve JFK Airport wouldn’t be worth the cost as most trains would be empty and the track curves along the existing AirTrain are far too tight. Platform slots at Penn Station are already full and it won’t be until at least 2022 when the massive East Side Access project opens a new LIRR at Grand Central would there even be space for airport trains.

Extension of the JFK AirTrain to Atlantic Terminal via Atlantic Ave Line.

But East Side Access will do something else; Since LIRR will now have more flexibility to terminate trains in midtown the need for the downtown Brooklyn Atlantic Terminal will be almost eliminated, save for the passengers who actually use it. While no exact plans have been put in place yet it has been speculated that the LIRR will, once East Side Access is open, reduce the Atlantic Branch to a shuttle service between Atlantic Terminal and Jamaica. If this does come to pass then this would be a perfect fit for the AirTrain which is already a glorified shuttle. While Atlantic Terminal does not reach Manhattan it is served by 11 subway lines. AirTrain riders now are forced to catch the A or the E, already packed express trains, but if it terminated at Atlantic Terminal travelers would have a buffet of subway options from which to chose. Additionally the service would still act as a shuttle to Jamaica for existing commuters. The LIRR ticketing space would be converted into a check-in facility. The existing Nostrand Ave and East New York stations would be closed to speed up the trip. All that would be needed is a new ramp connecting the existing AirTrain to the LIRR Atlantic Branch at Jamaica. Atlantic Terminal would give the city the most bang for its buck: offer a fast ride directly to the airport with connections to the most number of subway lines, offer Jamaica bound commuters an equal service replacement, and frees up space on packed A and E trains in Queens.

Extension of the JFK AirTrain to Atlantic Terminal via Atlantic Ave Line. Connection via Jamiaca.

Politicians and the RPA would argue that the AirTrain would then need to be extended into Manhattan but I still disagree. Lower Manhattan has changed considerably in the last 15 years and is much more residential. AirBNB as well as the rise of low cost hotels around the city means that travelers have more options than ever before. Midtown transit centers like Penn Station, Times Sq, and Grand Central are already overflowing with commuters and tourists alike and Atlantic Terminal offers a place to transfer trains which is far less crowded. Express subway trains serve Atlantic Terminal which can bring travelers to midtown, east and west side, quickly. If the AirTrain went to Penn Station it would still require a complicated crosstown journey (the less confused, lost travelers at Penn Station the better). According to Google Maps it takes 48 min to get form Terminal 4 at JFK to Atlantic Terminal via the AirTrain and LIRR, by subway it takes 20 min longer. This, however, requires transferring at Atlantic Terminal and then Jamaica Station, and by subway means transferring multiple times in stations which can be hard to navigate with luggage, which all adds additional time and confusion. Extending the AirTrain to Atlantic Terminal may not save much time in terms of train speed but it would remove the burdensome transfer at Jamaica. A one seat ride would be nice, no doubt, but the cost can’t be justified so a two seat ride is still far better than a three seat ride.


Governor Cuomo’s plan for the new AirTrain

The Request For Proposal for the design of the proposed LaGuardia AirTrain was just announced which means the state and Port Authority is looking for an engineering firm to design the new structure. It’s too early to tell yet what the new AirTrain will look like but many transit activists have come out against the AirTrain. Two years ago I wrote a post which tentatively supported the AirTrain but the most obvious choice in the matter would be to extend the N/W trains to LaGuardia via 19 Av in northern Astoria. Politics being what they are the local NIMBYs won’t even get to shoot the proposal down since Gov Cuomo is picking the Port Authority to built their own line via the Grand Central Parkway. The reasoning, I assume, is that since the PA owns LaGuardia they should also provide the service to the airport and collect any revenue that goes along with it.

IND Second System plans to extend the BMT Astoria Line into central Queens.

New York is littered with bad planning decisions that were built because a particular politician got their way. I have no doubt that the LaGuardia AirTrain will be built as an elevated shuttle between the airport and Willets Point for a transfer to the 7 and LIRR. The service will be popular enough, though I’m sure the M60 and Q70 buses will still transport just as many travelers. But I see a future for the little shuttle which may seem odd at first until you look back at the subways which were planned and never built. In 1929 the city, as part of the infamous IND Second System, proposed extending the BMT Astoria Line (today’s N/W trains) down Ditmars Blvd and Asotira Av to 112th St where it would jog south until it reached what is today the Long Island Expressway, continuing east to what today is Francis Lewis Blvd. What I am proposing is that after the AirTrain is built the MTA could buy the line and incorporate it into a larger extension of the N/W trains which would follow a similar route.

Map showing how the LaGuardia AirTrain could be integrated with the Astoria Line extension.

When the original BMT Astoria Line extension was proposed in 1929 most of this area of Queens was still developing and was farmland; Flushing Park wouldn’t exist for another decade. The modern extension would extend the N/W from Ditmars Blvd up to 19 Av where it would veer east to 45th St where it would dive underground to a new station under LaGuardia Airport. Trains would continue east to a new portal that would connect to the AirTrain. Assuming the AirTrain is built to a location between the 7 and LIRR stations at Willets Point the new line could easily be extended east along the ROW of the long defunct Central RR of LI which was converted into the Kissena Park corridor by Robert Moses. The AirTrain terminal at Willets Point would then be expanded to be a terminal for W trains while N trains would continue east; N trains would run peak express using the third track between Queensboro Plaza and Astoria Blvd.

Extending the Astoria Line via LaGuardia AirTrain further east through Flushing.

There are many different route and construction options available, whether built along an elevated viaduct through the park or as a cut and cover tunnel, but ideally the line would make it’s way southeast until the Long Island Expressway where it would continue until Springfield Blvd. As there is precious little land left for new train yards the park space would be perfect for a new underground yard somewhere along the route. Incorporating the LaGuardia AirTrain into a larger subway expansion would be a boon for locals and travelers alike and would actually reduce crowding on the 7 train rather than adding more travelers with their luggage onto already packed subway cars. This, however, would take the state, city and MTA all working together for a common goal, something that sadly is impossible under our current circumstances.

Map showing proposed M train subway extension to LaGuardia Airport.

A second subway option would be to use the abandoned (i.e. never used) terminal at Roosevelt Ave to extend the M train through Jackson Heights and East Elmhurst to the airport. The Roosevelt Terminal was built for a future line to the Rockaways and was never used. The terminal itself is on the eastern end of the mezzanine at Roosevelt Ave and is an island station with tiles but no tracks. The trackway leading east connects to the Queens Blvd Line bellow and turns south at 78th St. Instead the new branch would use the trackway connections to the existing subway and turn east down 41 Av, then northeast down Baxter Ave and finally north under 83 St finally turning towards LaGuardia Central Terminal at 23 St. While this extension would be the most expensive of the lot it would also serve as a local subway line for the undeserved areas of East Elmhurst and Jackson Heights north of Roosevelt Ave. The line would be more politically acceptable as it would be a subway the whole route and do more for local residents than the other options.

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Improving Transit with Midtown East Rezoning Mon, 09 Jan 2017 07:43:18 +0000
Ad advertisement touting the new express platforms at the 59th St-Lexington Ave station in 1962. The formerly local station was expanded as ridership grew between Manhattan and Queens.

Last week the NYC City Planning Commission moved forward with one of former mayor Bloomberg’s last major rezoning proposals for Midtown East (the area between Fifth Avenue, Third Avenue, East 39th Street and East 57th Street). The idea is to encourage large new development in a transit rich area of the city which was last built out in the 1950s and 60s. This was the prime showcase for the city’s 1961 zoning plan which introduced plazas as an incentive for taller buildings. The Seagrams Building on Park Ave between 52nd and 53rd streets was the first and arguably most successful of the new modern glass and steel towers built in the International Style. Unfortunately as more and more developments took advantage of the plaza-for-height clause the avenue began to lose it’s street wall to bland, windswept corporate “open space”, not to be considered a city park as it was now privately owned space. Today the issue isn’t public space but rather old space; the office spaces in this post-war towers can only be renovated so many times and today cannot meet the needs for 21st Century high tech companies (which pay top dollar, mind you). Midtown East is built out as far as the previous zoning will allow so a change is in order.

Much like the plaza clause in the 1961 zoning law which brought more “open space” the new zoning being proposed by the City Planning Commission is giving incentives to developers who will in tern create better pedestrian areas (probably indoor winter gardens), improved street access, and expanded transit services which include new, larger entrances to subway stations and in the case of Grand Central adding more space on platforms by shaving back obstacles such as large support beams. The city is also banking on the MTA’s last major expansion project, East Side Access, to be open by the time much of the new development gets underway. East Side Access is bringing the Long Island Railroad into a new cavernous station below Grand Central Terminal. And while the first section of the 2nd Ave Subway has just opened through the Upper East Side it seems like it will be another generation before 2nd Ave through Midtown East will see trains. While I could suggest that the city and MTA work together on expediting Phase 3 of 2nd Ave through Midtown East I actually think that time should be taken to reconsider Phase 3 especially with this new rezoning. Phase 3 has always been designed as a 2 track line from 63rd St to Houston St but given ridership growth over the last 5 years and projected growth with rezoning the city and MTA should seriously consider a 4 track line for Phase 3.

While I trust the City Planning Commission to continue with its public-private partnership approach to subway access improvements there is one idea which is larger and more involved. The city and the MTA are working closely on this new rezoning because the MTA can only gain from third parties expanding their stations for them at minimal cost to the MTA. New connections and mezzanines through private buildings will help keep additional pedestrians off the clogged sidewalks but it will also funnel more and more riders onto an already maxed out subway line.

1 Vanderbilt developers are proposing expanding the Grand Central Concourse and subway station for the ability to build a taller building.

There are three major subway hubs in the Midtown East study area: 42nd-Grand Central (4,5,6,7 & Shuttle trains), 51-Lexington/53rd St (6,E,M trains) and Lexington-59th St (4,5,6,N,R,W trains which doesn’t include Lex-63 F,Q trains). As the Lexington Line is the only subway running north-south through Midtown East these three stations handle not only north-south riders but any riders coming from Queens and continuing south. 42nd-Grand Central has the most publicized improvements thanks to the new 1 Vanderbilt tower now rising next door. The 1 Vanderbilt developers have proposed expanding the mezzanine connecting Grand Central to the subway and shuttle to Times Sq as well as shaving back the support beams on the subway platforms to allow more people to be on the platform. With the opening of the 2nd Ave Subway from 63rd St to 96th St the connection between the 4/5/6 and N/R/W trains at 59th St should see some relief as now riders looking to get to Times Sq or even Union Sq can take the Q train and avoid 59th St entirely.

This leaves 51-Lexington/53rd St. This station has seen a number of improvements over the years through public-private partnerships, most famously with the development of the CitiCorp Tower at 53rd St which created a large new mezzanine connecting the IRT 6 station to the IND E/M station. When the building at 560 Lexington was built a large open plaza was built into the base of the building at the corner of 50th and Lexington which allowed for a new subway entrance at the southern end of the IRT 6 southbound platform to be built. Adding new staircases here would be beneficial to passenger flow, especially given how congested the platforms can get, but that will only go so far.

What’s needed is a major upgrade for the station. 51 St on the IRT Lexington Line is a local station sandwiched between two express stations which means that any rider coming from downtown or uptown and the Bronx needs to take a crowded local train or change at 42nd or 59th St from an express to a crowded local train. The city and MTA need to consider adding new platforms on the express tracks. Upgrading the station to an express station means fewer transfers at 42nd and 59th Sts stations and gives riders coming from Queens via the E/M trains an alternative transfer option than just the R train at 59th St. This second fact would allow for a radical reorganization of Queens Blvd trains: R trains could now run via the 63rd St tunnel instead of the 60th St tunnel which is also used by the N/W trains. The 60th St tunnel is a bottleneck in the system as it forces three services to use it; shifting the R to 63rd St would allow for more R trains as well as more N/W trains to Astoria. M/R trains both run local in Queens so riders would have the choice, should they need to transfer to the 4/5/6 they can take the M, if they need to go west or south they can stay on the R which will now avoid the crowds at 59th St; this will also improve N/W riders commutes with less crowding at 59th St.

Ideally the N and R train would be swapped. Keeping the local trains on local tracks and express trains on express tracks saves time by removing switching tracks. However, in order for this to work here the Astoria Line would need to be extended north and a new train yard built to allow R trains access to storage and repair shops. Upgrading the switches and signals along the Broadway Line should cut down on switching time in the meanwhile. Express train riders might initially balk at the idea of adding more time to their commute the truth is that crowding on the Lexington Ave Line is so bad that it actually delays trains. Reducing local-express transfers means less delays due to crowding so adding an extra station stop to their commute will have a minimal impact and may actually speed their commute. Additionally in Queens Plaza the MTA could partner with a third-party developer to build an underground concourse connection between the Queensboro Plaza elevated station and the Queens Plaza subway station.

A before and after map showing proposed changes to subway service. Expanding 51st St station with express platforms allows Queens riders an alternative transfer point to 59th St and would stop crowding due to local-express transfers at 59th St and Grand Central. The R train would be rerouted along 63rd St. An additional transfer could be built by a third party developer between Queensboro Plaza and Queens Plaza stations.

The idea for new express platforms isn’t as crazy as it sounds. When originally built the IRT Lexington Ave Line only had express stations at 42nd St, 86th St, and 125th St. With the growth of Queens after World War II the Transit Authority saw the need to expand 59th St as it was a crucial transfer point. Because of how narrow Lexington Ave is the city built the express tracks of the Lexington Ave Line below the local tracks. At 59th St this meant that the new express platforms at were below the BMT Broadway-Astoria Line so a new lower mezzanine and escalators were installed. The IRT designed their subways (the 1/2/3 on the west side and the 4/5/6 on the east) with fewer express stations in midtown because at the time it had not yet developed into a business center and more riders were headed to the Wall St area. As midtown developed the IRT noticed crowding at 42nd and 86th St as more and more riders needed to change to reach midtown. When the city began developing their own subway, the IND, they designed their routes to avoid this transfer-crowding with more midtown statons being built for express and local trains.

What Midtown East needs is the 2nd Ave Subway but that will not be built in time. Ironically much of the last build out of Midtown East was due to the removal of the 3rd Ave El in 1955 which increased real estate values though the area. What can be done in time is expanding 51st St station. The city and MTA should seriously consider new express platforms which can be integrated to the existing station complex at 51 St-Lex/53. Doing so will have a ripple effect on service along the east side and would allow for more efficient train routing in Queens, further reducing congestion on the east side.

Removing the 3rd Ave El in 1955 paved the way for a massive build out of Midtown East.
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Building a better city: QueensWay vs Subway Wed, 21 Dec 2016 15:01:55 +0000
A park along the Prospect Expressway.

I live in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn a block away from the Prospect Expressway. Built in the 1950s by master builder and Parks Department head Robert Moses it cuts through southern Park Slope (literally cutting through the glacial moraine) and divides Windsor Terrace before connecting to Ocean Parkway. Construction of the highway was as destructive as any of his roads and forced the removal of many homes and businesses. But when I see the traffic lined up at rush hour I try to imagine the area without the highway and my nice quiet tree lined streets would be packed with traffic. Moses knew the need and what it would take to build such a road but he also knew that the road didn’t have to be just an eyesore. All along the route from Park Slope to Kensington there were parcels of land left over from building the road. Moses turned all of these into parks and paths. One can walk along the highway from one end to another and there are seating areas built in overlooking the highway; where there is larger land he built parks. There is even a park-path from the height of the hill down to the nearest subway station at Fort Hamilton Parkway, though this is mostly closed off due to concerns from neighboring homeowners. So while he saw that the highway would cut apart the neighborhood he also understood how to knit it back together.

This is not to try and paint Moses as a saint, far from it. The community through which he was ramming his roads used the new park space as a bargaining chip to offset the losses to their neighborhoods. Other, less influential, areas of the city didn’t get to benefit from this urban design choice. But none the less it was a compromise that worked.

LIRR Rockaway Branch today via Friends of the QueensWay

This brings us to a current day infrastructure vs. neighborhood battle: the QueensWay park vs. restored Rockaway Branch transit. A quick recap for those just joining us: the LIRR Rockaway Branch railroad once ran from Rego Park straight down to Howard Beach and then jumped across Jamaica Bay as a quicker way to the Rockaways. In the 1950s ridership was dropping and the LIRR wanted to cut the line loose. The city bought the line and converted the southern section to rapid transit which is today the A train. The norther section, from Rego Park to Liberty Ave, Ozone Park, was left fallow with the future potential to restore LIRR service or connect the line to the IND Queens Blvd subway which was built with multiple provisions for such a connection. In the 1970s reactivation was studied as a way to get to JFK Airport via rail but ultimately the AirTrain was built along the VanWyck Expressway instead. Since the beginning there has been the issue of NIMBY resistance. NIMBY is an urban development acronym for Not In My BackYard. While the term is thrown around for any kind of opposition the label works more literally here since the remaining ROW runs along the backyards of Queens residents. This opposition combined with questionable ridership statistics over the years means nothing has been done for generations.

Enter the High Line, poster child for the 21st Century urban park. The success of the High Line was a shot in the arm for the rails-to-trails movement which before had seen most success in converting abandoned railroads in the suburbs or rural areas. The High Line was the first major urban rail line to be converted and gave inspiration for other abandoned rail infrastructure in older cities with industrial pasts. Queens residents were inspired and looked at the old Rockaway Branch as the perfect project. Thus was born the QueensWay. Governor Andrew Cuomo threw his support behind the project and green lit funding to develop a working design proposal.

Artists rendering of proposed QueensWay

But transit advocates balked at the idea of turning the only preserved ROW through Queens into a park, thus killing any chance of restoring train service. For many other rails-to-trains projects the ROW usually ran through an area that would not likely see the density of development needed to justify reactivation. Rockaway Branch was different as it ran through densely developed neighborhoods and paralleled Woodhaven Blvd, a 6 lane highway that offered one of the only north-south routes through central Queens. Woodhaven Blvd is currently the focus of a new Select Bus Service aimed at adding bus lanes with fewer stops to speed up travel. There has been well publicized resistance to the plan as it would take away parking and turning lanes which, as opponents argue, would increase traffic congestion. Restoring Rockaway Branch rail service would mean a faster route through central Queens and take cars off of Woodhaven Blvd. The city, state, and MTA have been cool to such a project so far given the cost overruns of basically every large scale rail project undertaken by the MTA since its inception. The MTA claims that rail service would only take bus riders off the road and not do much for traffic congestion. Local politicians have been mainly in favor of restored service but haven’t pushed the city to do more (though they did get the MTA to start a new study on restored service).

R Train extension along the LIRR Rockaway Branch via NYObserver

Last week an op-ed was published by Friends of the QueensWay throwing more fuel on the fire claiming that restoring rail service would be a detriment to the children playing in the nearby parks and distract students at nearby schools. They also claim that restored LIRR service would cost too much to ride for most southern Queens residents, take away riders from the AirTrain (which doesn’t even make sense since any subway rider would still need to transfer at Howard Beach to the AirTrain to reach JFK), and that any subway ride would be too long to reach Midtown to justify the costs. This op-ed, besides being laughably hyperbolic, points to the biggest issue we have in addressing the future needs of our city which is pitting sides against one another instead of finding common ground. Battle lines seem to have been drawn yet I can’t help thinking that both sides are right.

There is no denying that restoring Rockaway Branch rail service would be a boon to all residents of Queens. The line would serve as the only north-south crosstown line and reduce traffic along Woodhaven Blvd, especially in the summer when the only option for anyone north of Atlantic Ave is to drive to the beach or take the Q53 bus from Queens Blvd. Subway service would connect the most number of residents and could be improved with a new half-express service which I’ll outline later. But park advocates have valid points about expanding park space (which is virtually impossible in this built up city) as well as connecting lower income neighborhoods with Forest Park. Building a bike network through Queens would be a game changer and give commuters a viable biking option through areas of the city dominated by automobile traffic. These are all ideas to make the city a better place. So why is there even a fight?

Neither side has all the answers. The reasoning for building a new subway line along the Rockaway ROW is that it can just be reactivated for much cheaper than building a new line (such as the multi billion dollar 2nd Ave Subway). What transit activists fail to grasp is just how much of the line needs to be rebuilt. The last trains ran in the 1950s and anything there, rails, bridges, stations, electrical equipment needs to be completely rebuilt. Also while the norther section from Rego Park to Forest Park runs above ground the southern section runs along an embankment which has not been maintained in almost 70 years. This will need to be rebuilt in parts if not totally. So the low cost aspect goes out the door; we are talking about a billion dollar project to start with. Transit activists also need to seriously consider the noise impact of a new rail service that runs above ground. While many contend that buying a home next to a rail line, even an abandoned one, gives abutters little say in the matter the truth is that we live in an age of environmental review and noise issues need to be considered. The park space issue is more of a grey zone since Queens has some of the most park space of any borough but there area areas which lack any space for even building a new park. Ozone Park, despite the name, has very little park space and the QueensWay would open a route through Ozone Park that would directly connect it to Forest Park. The High Line model is popular but advocates need to consider that Chelsea was already a hot gentrifying neighborhood before the High Line was built. Just building a High Line but in Queens doesn’t mean it will work the same way (despite cheery renderings). And removing the ROW from transit capability for good will condemn Queens to further automobile dependency.

QueensWay North

Satellite view of the northern section of the Rockaway Branch. The green strip is the existing abandoned ROW.
To me the answer is obvious, build both. The ROW needs to be rebuilt for either project so why not take the opportunity to build it for both. The best option for service is to build a branch of the Queens Blvd subway. Tunnel provisions were built between 63 Dr-Rego Park and 67 Av stations in the 1930s for such a branch. The new subway tunnel would run down 66th Ave past Burns St but continue in a tunnel to Forest Park. Building a simple box tunnel under the ROW could be done for much cheaper than if it ran under a city street; no underground utilities would need to be moved and the tunnel ceiling would only need to carry the new path above it. The new path would seamlessly integrate into the existing parks along the ROW through Rego Park and Forest Hills. The park itself would start at 63rd Dr at the LIRR tracks and could use the vacant land once used for the LIRR junction. From 66th St/Fleet St south to Union Turnpike the line runs through the backyards of residents and where building a tunnel would be most beneficial in terms of reducing noise. The path above would then create a parkway from Rego Park south leading directly into Forest Park.  This also avoids the issue of trains rumbling by the new school, though that argument against the line screams frightened suburban helicopter parent and should be laughed away.

QueensWay South

Southern section of the Rockaway branch. Ozone Park is much denser with less open space.
Just south of Jackie Robinson Parkway the subway would come above ground and from Forest Park south the embankment would need to be rebuilt. The lower elevation in southern Queens means that there is a higher water table and any subway would need to be expensively water proofed. From Park Ln South to Atlantic Ave is the most difficult part because the ROW directly abuts the backs of homes. Park and bike space is sparse here so the path from Forest Park would need to run along Woodhaven Blvd. The frontage roads on the outer sides of Woodhaven Blvd would be reduced from 2 lanes to 1 with the medians being expanded for bike lanes.  Atlantic Ave boasts a wide concrete median which can be reduced so that protected bike lanes can be built along the length from Broadway Junction to Jamaica without the need for eliminating parking.  These bike lanes would connect to a new park which is today a bus parking lot but was once used as a junction between the LIRR Atlantic Ave branch and the LIRR Rockaway branch.  This park would run along the rebuilt embankment to 97th Ave.  From 97th Ave to Liberty Ave exists the old 4 track embankment with an abandoned station at 101-103rd Avs.  This embankment may need to be rebuilt and if so would be rebuilt with only 2 tracks.  It’s also questionable if this is the best place for a station as Atlantic Ave and Liberty Ave seem more suitable.  The extra space can be used as a linear park extending the bike lane south to Liberty Ave. The space under the new smaller embankment can be used for parks and markets in the way the QueeensWay proponents show in their renderings (see above).

The old Ozone Park embankment is 4 tracks wide. A new 2 track embankment would leave space for parks, bike paths, and markets beneath.
The southern section obviously lacks the park space of the northern section and improved bike lanes may not seem like a worthy trade off.  The benefit would be that residents would have a subway to take them directly to Rockaway, Forest Park, or the expanded parks of Rego Park.  Landscaping the new embankment would also allow for noise reducing trees to be installed, further improving the neighborhood.  Bike lanes could be extended south along Cross Bay Blvd and new lanes installed along Conduit Blvd and the Belt Parkway which today have expansive, but empty, landscaped medians.  This last part is beyond the scope of the QueensWay but is in keeping with the desire to reuse transportation infrastructure for better park access.

Subway Service

Subway service would be via the local tracks of the Queens Blvd subway and this poses a problem.  While improved subway service is needed so too is a faster commute to Manhattan.  Ozone Park has two subway lines (J/Z and the A/C), one of which is express to lower Manhattan so the prospect of adding a new line which won’t reduce travel times isn’t much of a selling point.  Queens Blvd is also at capacity and many feel that adding a branch line would only increase congestion.  This point may or may not matter much since Woodhaven Blvd is a major bus hub and the new Rockaway branch would collect those riders sooner so station platform congestion might be reduced.  The MTA is budgeted for upgrading the signals along Queens Blvd to the new CBTC system which is computer controlled and knows where all trains are at any time.  This allows for more trains to run per hour and opens up capacity by about 10 trains per hour.  The seemingly obvious answer is to just run more trains but ridership levels along Queens Blvd are not equal; ridership is highest between Roosevelt Ave and Forest Hills where local trains terminate (also express stations have much higher ridership than local stations).  Much of the congestion issue is along this section because riders prefer to switch from local to express at Roosevelt Ave even if local trains are less crowded.  The solution is a partial express service: currently M trains run local from Queens Plaza to Forest Hills but with CBTC they would have the wiggle room to run express from Queens Plaza to Roosevelt Ave and then switch to the local tracks (doing so with the current signal system would cause delays on both local and express tracks).  Local riders would then not have to change trains at Roosevelt Ave.  The time savings is only 3-4 minuets but the idea of express service being “better” than local means that riders don’t actually take that into consideration.  This new express-local service would then branch off at 63rd Dr and head to Howard Beach.  The commute would seem faster and would actually improve service along Queens Blvd.  Additionally, due to the fact that the M train would no longer terminate at Forest Hills, there would be enough space there to allow for G trains to be extended and terminate at Forest Hills once again.

Money is the problem and this points to the city and Albany. The MTA, which ultimately answers to the governor, also stands in the way because it is in their best interest to do nothing.  Building the line may not attract that many new riders which is the narrow way the MTA evaluates a project.  The need is more about giving commuters another option that isn’t driving but this is on the city to push.  Mayor de Blasio has proven completely ineffectual at consensus building and at this point isn’t even trying. His fallout with Gov Cuomo means that the city cannot push any subway project.  Gov Cuomo seems to be anti-transit and has put money into studying the QueensWay park and would only benefit from keeping the pro-park forces fighting the pro-transit forces.  What is needed is someone to bring both sides to the table and see the common goal of both projects.  It does not make sense to start building a park now when a subway would only require rebuilding the whole thing.  The city needs a leader who can bring all parties to the table and find a solution that helps everyone.  Construction costs need to be looked at too, especially now that the MTA is wrapping up the 2nd Ave Subway.  If the project was financed primarily by the city, such as the 7 Line extension, the MTA would be much more open to the idea.  The city has the most to gain here as gentrification moves more and more people into southern Queens from Brooklyn.  Ridership growth is robust here and the city needs to be proactive for once; bus lanes aren’t going to cut it and new highways aren’t an option. If we continue on this one side takes all mentality then the city will suffer for it.

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Fixing the Myrtle-Broadway Problem Wed, 23 Nov 2016 05:31:12 +0000 Two Myrtle Ave trains merge at Myrtle Ave, one coming from Manhattan and the other from downtown Brooklyn.  Photo by Frank Pfuhler via
Two Myrtle Ave trains merge at Myrtle Ave, one coming from Manhattan and the other from downtown Brooklyn. Photo by Frank Pfuhler via

Starting in the summer of 2017 the MTA will shut down service along the Myrtle Ave Line (M train) from Broadway to Metropolitan Ave. The closure is so the MTA can rebuild a crumbling bridge and viaduct to allow for better service once the Canarsie Tubes of the L train are shut down for Hurricane Sandy related repairs. While this relatively small project is important for keeping the system moving it is really only a band aid on a larger issue: the BMT Jamaica and Myrtle Ave Lines have some of the oldest continually operating track structure in the entire NYC Subway and the junction at Myrtle Ave is a bottleneck along two lines which are seeing continued ridership growth due to the popularity of both Bushwick and now Bedford-Stuyvesant. This is a missed opportunity by the MTA to not just rebuild aging infrastructure but do so which eliminates a crucial bottleneck and expands capacity along both lines.

Both the Jamaica Line (J/Z trains) and the Myrtle Ave Line originally date back to the late 1880s when Brooklyn was still its own independent city and was growing rapidly. What we have with the M train today is only a vestige of a longer line which continued down Myrtle Ave to downtown Brooklyn and over the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan. The Myrtle Ave Line eventually had direct connections to many of the other Brooklyn elevated lines which have now been torn down as well. In 1914 the direct connection between the Myrtle Ave Line and the Jamaica Line at Myrtle-Broadway was opened allowing dual services to run, one via the Brooklyn Bridge and one via the Williamsburg Bridge. Originally a connection was planned from Chambers St station with the Brooklyn Bridge which would have allowed elevated lines to loop back into Brooklyn offering a variety of services. Such a system never came to pass as the new subways proved more popular than the old elevated lines which the city soon began to replace. After WWII the population of central Brooklyn declined and so too did ridership on the Myrtle Ave Line which ended downtown service in 1969. The elevated structure from downtown Brooklyn to Marcus Garvey Blvd was town down and all service east of Broadway ran exclusively to Manhattan via the Williamsburg Bridge.

An M train passes at grade over the J train track causing delays.  Photo by Paul Pesante via
An M train passes at grade over the J train track causing delays. Photo by Paul Pesante via

As the popularity of Williamsburg and Bushwick has grown over the last 20 years so too has ridership. In 2010 the M train was rerouted from downtown to 6th Ave which has proven very popular and an alternative to the crowded L train. This is where the bottleneck at Myrtle-Broadway starts to become an issue. As more trains are needed to account for ridership growth the at-grade junction keeps capacity limited. This wasn’t as much of an issue when the M train terminated at Broad St since the J/Z provided additional downtown service. But the M now continues on to Forest Hills via the notoriously congested Queens Blvd Line. Due to the bottleneck M trains can only be scheduled at about 8 trains per hour leaving time for up to 5 more trains per hour available if the bottleneck was removed (theoretically there could be as much as 15tph but due to congestion along 6th Ave and Queens Blvd realistically the max is 12 or 13 tph). Not only would this mean better service for Williamsburg and Bushwick but also for Queens as well.

M train passes by the abandoned upper level at Myrtle Ave.  Photo by Filip Matuska via
M train passes by the abandoned upper level at Myrtle Ave. Photo by Filip Matuska via

The MTA is planning on rebuilding the concrete viaduct that connects the Broadway Line with the Myrtle Ave Line but not eliminating the bottleneck. This bottle neck can be eliminated by building a new flying junction between the Flushing Av station and Myrtle Ave station. The current local tracks would be moved outward so that two new tracks can be added between. These two new tracks would connect to both the local and express tracks. As they approach Myrtle Ave the new tracks would rise up and a new upper level station would be built over the existing Myrtle Ave station, though slightly to the west. This new station would mirror the existing station with three tracks and two island platforms. The remnants of the old Myrtle Ave El would be removed south of Broadway so that the new tracks could be extended along the abandoned trackways as they turn down Myrtle Ave. The trackways are still in good shape as they are connected to the existing junction structure. This new upper level station would serve Myrtle Ave trains exclusively and the reason for the mirrored design is so elevators could be installed to connect the platforms. Additionally a third track could be installed between the new Myrtle upper level and the existing Myrtle Ave Line. A third track was installed between Central Ave and Wyckoff Ave but was only used for storage and was removed in 1946. With an increase in trains per hour a third track may be useful for turning trains at Wyckoff Ave at rush hour or for emergencies.

Track map showing current and proposed Myrtle-Broadway connections.
Track map showing current and proposed Myrtle-Broadway connections.

A dual level station like what I am proposing has precedent throughout the NYC Subway. At West 8 St on the Brighton Beach Line (Q train) and the Culver Line (F train) each train has a separate level with the Q train rising up to the upper level exactly how the new Myrtle Ave connection would do so. Historically at Gun Hill Rd on the White Plains Line (2/5 trains) there was a similar connection with the now demolished 3rd Ave El with each line on a separate level and then merging north of the station. Not only does this design eliminate trains having to pass in front of one another but in the case of Myrtle Ave the sharp 90 degree curve would be eliminated so trains can turn faster and safer, not to mention the reduced wear and tear as well as noise.

Q train approaching W 8 St station.  Photo by David Tropiansky via
Q train approaching W 8 St station. Photo by David Tropiansky via

The repairs the MTA is undertaking next year are part of a larger recovery plan and not part of any long range strategy. As time is of the essence when it comes to the Canarsie Tubes I cannot fault the MTA for deciding to go for the quick option for rebuilding the Myrtle Ave connection. But as more and more people move into central and northern Brooklyn the limitations of our existing infrastructure are becoming apparent.

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New vanmaps for sale! Thu, 31 Mar 2016 00:03:42 +0000 It’s been almost 5 years since I developed the original vanmaps, the New York City Subway Infographic Posters, and I am very proud to announce an expansion!

All new posters for Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, PATH, and Washington DC. A new stripped down design. New sizes (18″x24″ and 24″x36″)

As always these posters feature bright colors with minimalist designed maps of the geographically accurate line with statistics. Added to the design is a minimap showing the line in context of their entire system.

Boston MBTA
Boston MBTA
Chicago CTA
Chicago CTA
San Francisco BART
San Francisco BART
Washington WMATA
Washington WMATA

Posters are printed on 100# glossy paper and made in the USA! 18″x24″ for $25, 24″x36″ for $35

The L Train Shutdown: Connecting the G and J/M/Z Fri, 26 Feb 2016 08:30:04 +0000
New transfer between E/M/G subway and 7 elevated trains at Court Sq. A new station at Union Ave/Broadway on the J/M/Z would allow a free physical transfer between the two lines.

Should anyone at this point (especially readers of this website) not be aware that the MTA is soon facing their own Gordian Knot: the shutdown and rehabilitation of the Canarsie Tubes, the tunnels that carry the L train between Manhattan and Brooklyn. Much has been written and yelled about this project and I must fault the MTA for truly dropping the ball when it comes to handling the PR. The MTA is in a no-win situation. After a decade of unprecedented growth the L train went from a backwater train running through a no-mans-land to becoming the pivotal artery feeding one of the hottest real estate markets in the nation. Mother nature has a way of periodically reminding us that she is, ultimately, in charge and in 2012 Hurricane Sandy battered the city flooding all river tunnels south of 53rd St. The MTA had the difficult job of having to rebuild the tunnels lest the intense corrosion from salt water eat away at everything metal and cripple the subway further. The MTA had more flexibility when it closed down other tunnels (the R was shut down for good for 14 months but due to redundancies the impact was minimal) but they left the L for last because they knew they had no good options.

While some have pointed out that there were in fact two other tunnels planned between Manhattan and Williamsburg it doesn’t really help anything today. The L Train Coalition was recently quoted in a town hall meeting as asking why the MTA does not consider building a new tunnel first and repairing the Canarsie Tubes once the new tunnel is open. I don’t want to sound hypocritical since this basic idea is the basis for quite a number of futureNYCSubway posts on this very site but the reality is that the Federal government is willing to foot the bill for restoration and clean up, not a brand new project. The same thing is going on across town between New York and New Jersey with Amtrak’s North River Tunnel to Penn Station. A new tunnel takes time to plan and the MTA ballparked the cost around $4.5b (which given the length and new stations seems to line up with current 2nd Ave Subway costs). So while long term a new tunnel will be needed it won’t really help us now.

G Train transfer points; No transfer at J/M/Z
G Train transfer points; No transfer at J/M/Z
There is a cheaper alternative and one which the MTA hasn’t seemed too keen on in the past which is to build a physical connection between the G train and the elevated J/M/Z. The Broadway station on the Crosstown Line was once planned to be a critical hub where the aforementioned unbuilt East River tunnels would meet and fan out into Brooklyn and Queens. It would have revolutionized travel for anyone living in Williamsburg and Bed Stuy where riders today only have the L train at Metropolitan-Lorimer as a transfer to reach Manhattan (overlooking the much further out Court Sq in Long Island City or Hoyt-Schermerhorn in downtown Brooklyn). Because the Crosstown Line was built by the city and the new (unbuilt) Williamsburg lines were meant to replace the elevated Jamaica Line (J/M/Z) no direct transfer was ever established even though the demand remains.

Over the last decade, to their credit, the MTA has undergone rather large scale station expansions at key transfer station where transfers, because of the competing companies, were never offered. These include Bleecker St-Broadway-Lafayette where once only the downtown 6 offered a transfer to the B/D/F/M, Jay St-MetroTech where the R passed over the A/C/F but never transferred, and Court Sq where the E/M, G, and 7 trains meet. The Court Sq transfer was partially built by CitiGroup when their LIC headquarters went up in the early 90s. The MTA even offers an out of system transfer between 59th St-Lexington Ave and Lexington Ave-63rd St which due to the technical limitations of the MetroCard means the MTA loses money (since you can’t prove you made the transfer the fare is waved).

Map showing Williamsburg stations with ridership statistics.  Source: MTA.
Map showing Williamsburg stations with ridership statistics. Source: MTA.

When offered the chance to build either type of transfer at Broadway/Union Ave the MTA balked. By the numbers you can see why: Hewes St only saw 903,000 riders in 2014, Broadway saw 1.1m, and Lorimer (J/M/Z) saw 1.5m. Compare this with Court Sq which saw 6.7m, Jay St-MetroTech which saw 12.2m, and Bleecker St-Broadway-Lafayette which saw 12.9m. Furthermore the physical connections at these new transfer stations was minimal since each platforms crossed relatively close to one another. Hewes St station is about 750ft from the Broadway station and would involve a large new structure to connect the underground mezzanine to the elevated station (see the picture at the top of the post which shows the new structure at Court Sq). Given the expensive engineering to connect the two stations it’s no wonder the MTA passed.

But that was a decade ago and many things have changed. Even without the L train closure ridership along the G has exploded in this area; Broadway has seen a 4.9% increase in ridership between 2013 and 2014, Flushing Ave 10.9%, and Myrtle-Willoughby a 9.1% increase. Ridership on the J/M/Z between Marcy Ave and Myrtle Ave, meanwhile, has held steady or even dropped slightly meaning that there is excess capacity which could be used to relieve the L train. Metropolitan Ave-Lorimer St station, the only G transfer station saw 5m riders coming through the turnstiles in 2014 but this doesn’t account for transfers between the L and G. Anyone who rides here knows that a substantial proportion of traffic at Metropolitan Ave is transfers (the MTA does not track transfers so there are no hard numbers available). The need may not have been there a decade ago but it’s plain to see today.

New underground mezzanine connecting Broadway to Hewes St station or a new Union Ave station.
New underground mezzanine connecting Broadway to Hewes St station or a new Union Ave station.

It’s time for the MTA to revisit a connection between the G and J/M/Z. The MTA balks at out-of-system transfers due to lost revenue and I would have to agree with them here since the new riders such a transfer would attract would be too much for the MTA to cover by an out-of-system transfer. What I want to see is a brand new elevated station at Union Ave, fully ADA compliant (which would make it only the second elevated J station which would be compliant after Marcy Ave!), and have a direct transfer to the Broadway station below via stairs, escalator, and elevator. The new station would replace both Hewes St and Lorimer St elevated stations as the station spacing is relatively close for modern subways and the ridership levels too low to justify 2 or 3 stations. The new Union Ave station would be .4m from Marcy Ave and .5m from Flushing Ave, the same distances between many of the G train stations in the area.

This plan isn’t without it’s own issues. Building a new mezzanine to connect to Hewes St might be cheaper but would offer a less friendly transfer and require two sets of elevators along with the neew to demolish a nearby building in order to build the connection. A new elevated station could face resistance for casting shadows on the street but it should be noted that the area surrounding this intersection is mostly one story commercial buildings and a police station so the impact would be low. Removal of existing stations will always face resistance from a small percentage of riders who live closest to them and this has been used in the past to oppose station closures. With recent delays in the opening of the 7 train extension and doubts about whether the MTA can deliver the first phase of 2nd Ave by their own December 2016 deadline there are some very real doubts that the MTA could pull this off on time and on budget. These seem like small issues compared with the larger problem of shutting down the L train. What I’m proposing won’t just alleviate the impact of years without the L but it will also set the stage for better transit in all of north Brooklyn. With no transfer the J/Z is a glorified shuttle between Broadway Junction and Chambers St. The M has seen a huge uptick in ridership since being rerouted along 6th Ave. A transfer to the greater subway network in Brooklyn would revolutionize how people get around north Brooklyn and have an immediate impact on reducing congestion at Bedford Ave and Lorimer St. How many L train riders, if given the option, would take a train that bypasses that mess?

MTA Subway Map with new Union Ave station complex.
MTA Subway Map with new Union Ave station complex.

A new station and transfer would be expensive, probably in the mid tens-of-millions of dollars, or the new mezzanine would be more disruptive to construct. But the investment would have wide reaching effects. A single infill station could be built and running by the time the MTA says it needs to shut down the L, 2018. I urge the MTA, local advocates, and politicians to seriously examine this new station.

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futureNYCSubway 2016 Wed, 17 Feb 2016 03:10:22 +0000 futureNYCSubway 2016 map.  Click for large scale PDF version (1mb)
futureNYCSubway 2016 map. Click for large scale PDF version (1mb)

As the major subway expansion projects of the last 15 years begin to open and the big issue everyone is talking about is cost. The top 3 most expensive transit projects in the world (cost per mile) are all in NYC; East Side Access, 2nd Ave Subway, and the 7 Line extension. Furthermore the Calatrava PATH station at the World Trade Center is likely to be the most expensive subway station ever built. There is much I don’t know about the internal workings of the MTA and I would love to have someone at the state run a total audit of the MTA to find the fat that could be cut; at this point I’m willing to bet the cost problem is across the board and there will not be one magic solution to fixing it. Governor Cuomo famously forced the MTA to scale back their 2015-2019 budget as a way to curtail waist. The issue now is that he still hates the MTA and refuses to fund them even after they were able to cut billions out. If only he was serious about reforming the MTA rather than using it as a punching bag. He recent wide ranging transportation proposals seem to be directed only at subruban commuters with improvements to the LIRR, Penn Station, and a study to look at a new Long Island Sound crossing… all things that weren’t really a priority before he decided to champion them.

With this in mind I sought to plan out a system expansion which would be as cost effective as possible by addressing current service bottlenecks, train car issues, current ridership and population growth. The Queens Blvd Line is currently slated to undergo conversion to CBTC, a new signal system which will allow up to 40 trains per hour to run (current signals allow up to 30tph but do to a variety of factors this is rarely possible). CBTC is the only way that the G train can be extended back to Forest Hills or, once the 2nd Ave Subway is opened below 63rd St, 2nd Ave trains can run along Queens Blvd. CBTC will take many years to be fully installed on every subway line so focusing on the Queens Blvd Line is a good start but the full impact of the improved service will take time to be felt.

Other proposals deal with small projects with large consequences. Since the IRT opened it has been known that many of the junctions between lines, specifically the Rodgers Ave Junction at Eastern Parkway and Nostrand Ave and the Lexington Ave-149th St Junction on the 5 Line, are bottlenecks which have a serious impact of service. There have been proposals for decades to rebuild these junctions but nothing has ever been done. The Rodgers Ave Junction in particular has been a major road block to the Utica Ave Subway as it would seriously limit trains to Utica Ave and New Lots.

First Stage Expansions

2nd Ave Subway

My most recent concept for the 2nd Ave Subway deals with trunk pairing. Trunk pairing is how each of the three companies which built the NYC Subway designed their systems. The idea is simple: built two trunk lines that run through Manhattan which branch off in the outer boroughs. The branches then merge so that, for instance, riders in the Bronx can at a single station have access to trains that run down either the west or east sides of Manhattan (this was more the case when the 9th Ave elevated line still connected to the 4 train). The IND and IRT were designed this way (more so the IND which learned from the mistakes of the IRT and BMT). The BMT however was focused more on lower Manhattan and designed a system where trains would come in from all over Brooklyn and loop back over the bridges and through the Montague St Tunnel. It worked for a while until the heart of the central business district moved up to midtown. This is why there is so much abandoned subway infrastructure on the Broadway (N/Q/R) and Jamaica Lines (J/Z). This was addressed in 1968 with the Chrystie St Connection which connected the Williamsburg and Manhattan Bridges to the 6th Ave Line (today’s B/D/M trains), rerouting lines through midtown which previously only went downtown. The Broadway Line is now paired with the 6th Ave Line which due to them being a block apart in many places isn’t the most efficient pairing.

Map detail showing 2nd Ave-Broadway Line train pairing in midtown offering Queens riders east or west side trains from a single station.
Map detail showing 2nd Ave-Broadway Line train pairing in midtown offering Queens riders east or west side trains from a single station.

Pairing the Broadway Line with the new 2nd Ave Line would give riders a new one seat option to get to either the west or east sides of Manhattan (or rather central Manhattan and the east side). This would immediately have a major positive impact on transfers at congested midtown stations like 59th/Lexington Ave and 53rd/Lexington Ave. The Queens Blvd Line has two local service, the R and M, but would be much more effective if it was the R and a 2nd Ave train (a restored V train). The M then could then be used as additional express service past Forest Hills. With the addition of express tracks another pairing could be possible by building a new connection between the 2nd Ave Subway and the 60th St tunnel which carries the N to Astoria. The Astoria Line historically had a direct connection to the now demolished 2nd Ave Elevated line and restoring this connection would address many of the transfers at 59th St/Lexington Ave.

Map detail showing 2nd Ave Subway Phase 4 via Park Row and Nassau St or via Centre St (dashed).
Map detail showing 2nd Ave Subway Phase 4 via Park Row and Nassau St or via Centre St (dashed).
At the southern end of the line the 2nd Ave Subway would be connected to the Manhattan Bridge and the Montague St Tunnel via the Nassau St Subway. Planners as far back as the 1940s have seen connecting the 2nd Ave Subway to the Centre St Subway (J/Z trains) at Delancey St as a way to utilize these under used tracks. I’ve been told, but do not have the engineering documents to prove it, that the geometry of such a connection would be unfeasible or at least far from ideal. The sharp S-curve required to get from Chrystie St to Centre St would slow down trains so much and cause extreme wear and tear. The alternative I’m proposing would extend the 2nd Ave Subway from Grand St to Chatham Sq and them down Park Row (which is now an NYPD no-mans-land) to Nassau St where it would merge with the Nassau St Subway just south of Chambers St station and then on to the Montague Tunnel. This connection would be a much cheaper alternative than building a new 2nd Ave terminal under Water St by using the existing terminal tracks past Broad St and it would allow direct transfers to other lines at Fulton St where the current plan for Phase 4 of the 2nd Ave Subway offers no transfers. The connection between the Centre St Subway and Nassau St Subway at Chambers St would most likely be severed, though it may be possible to keep a single non revenue track connection for work trains.

Map detail showing 2nd Ave-Broadway train pairing through DeKalb station.  Train pairing allows for maximum rerouteing flexibility.
Map detail showing 2nd Ave-Broadway train pairing through DeKalb station. Train pairing allows for maximum rerouteing flexibility.

At Houston St the 6th Ave Express trains, which currently run over the Manhattan Bridge, would instead be extended to Williamsburg via a new tunnel to South 4th St for a new line covered below. This frees up space on the Manhattan Bridge for 2nd Ave trains so at DeKalb Ave each Broadway-2nd Ave train pairing would meet and run off to their respectful branches: N/R trains along 4th Ave would be joined by 2nd Ave local and express trains taking over from the D on the West End Line (with peak direction express) while the Q and T run local-express to Brighton Beach.

Map detail showing Astoria Line extension to LaGuardia Airport with new train yard allowing R trains to run exclusively on the Broadway local tracks.
Map detail showing Astoria Line extension to LaGuardia Airport with new train yard allowing R trains to run exclusively on the Broadway local tracks.

The final part of the plan is seemingly unrelated to the 2nd Ave Subway at all but would have huge consequences in terms of efficiency. Historically the R ran from Bay Ridge to Astoria along the Broadway local tracks while the N ran express and connected to the Queens Blvd Line. This was reversed because the R had no direct access to a train yard (which meant that if a train needed to go out of service or more trains added to make up for a disruption the R trains needed to make long runs along other lines to reach their lines). Extending the Astoria Line to LaGuardia Airport would mean that a new yard could be built north of 20th Ave on land owned by ConEd which is currently fallow. This new yard would allow R trains to return to the Astoria Line. Why is this preferred? This means the R train would run exclusively on the local tracks while the N would share the express with the Q but never have to merge with local tracks along Broadway (this merging causes delays and caps the capacity of the Broadway Line). The N would return to Queens Blvd via the 63rd St tunnel and Astoria and Bay Ridge riders would now be able to see increased and more reliable service on the R train. Riders on the Lexington Ave Line would need to adjust their commute as 59th/Lexington Ave would only allow a transfer to the Astoria Line so all Queens Blvd bound riders would need to transfer at 51st/Lexington Ave. Additionally any Queens Blvd bound rider could also take the 2nd Ave Line instead of the Lexington Ave Line and transfer across the platform at 63rd/Lexington Ave. Segregating transfers would have an overall benefit to service and congestion throughout midtown. Having an Astoria-2nd Ave branch would also remove the need for many transfers at 59th St/Lexington Ave to further reduce congestion.

With funding for Phase 2 of the 2nd Ave Subway cut from the still unfunded MTA 2015-2019 budget it seems almost futile to talk about the future of the project. As with all my past designs looking past Phase 2 would extend a branch west under 125th St to Broadway and a branch north to replace the 5 train to Dyre Ave. The city, in using designs for the 2nd Ave Subway which date to the 1970s, has permanently stunted service to the Bronx on the east side of Manhattan. Only two service can run along 2nd Ave, both local, which means that expanding subway service to under served areas like 3rd Ave or Throgs Neck is virtually impossible. 2016 is not 1971 and it is imperative that the sections south of 63rd St are built as a 4 track trunk line. The additional track will be under used for the foreseeable future but it is important to have it when future demand can fill the void; if the tracks of the 2nd Ave Line are designed properly then it would even be possible to terminate trains from Brooklyn in midtown. 4 tracks south of 63rd St to Grand St would allow better utilization of the East River tunnels between Manhattan and Queens which are already at capacity.

IRT Junction Rehabilitation and the Utica Ave Subway

Since the day it opened the IRT has had capacity and congestion issues. Being the first subway in New York it was designed conservatively to save money and much of these design choices still haunt the system today (you will notice narrower cars on the numbered lines for instance). While the A Division (as the IRT is known internally) was the first to see countdown clocks and CBTC (or whatever similar system the MTA ended up installing) to help with congestion there are some physical limitations which effect capacity. There are two major junctions on the IRT where the 2 and 5 trains merge and their issues have been know about since the beginning. The Rogers Ave Junction in Brooklyn where the Nostrand Ave Subway merges with the Eastern Parkway Subway requires local trains to cross in front of express trains. This limits capacity on the New Lots Line (3 train) and in doing so also makes any extension for the Utica Ave Subway impractical. In the Bronx where the 2 and 5 merge again at 149th St there is an extremely sharp S-curve connecting the Lexington Ave Line with the White Plains Rd Line. This was done to eliminate the need for transfers from the 2 to the 4/5 and this service is immensely popular.

Map detail showing rebuilt Rogers Ave Junction (which would require the demolition of Presidents St station) and Utica Ave service.
Map detail showing rebuilt Rogers Ave Junction (which would require the demolition of Presidents St station) and Utica Ave service.

Because both junctions directly impact the entire A Division any delay at either one backs up the entire system. This is why train pairing is so important to the IRT and why the 2/5 runs together in the Bronx and Brooklyn. Reconfiguring these junctions would not only speed up service on the entire system but also enable more trains to run at higher speeds as well as open the door for the Utica Ave Subway.

Map detail showing Utica Ave Line and Nostrand Ave Line Extension.
Map detail showing Utica Ave Line and Nostrand Ave Line Extension.

The Utica Ave Subway in this plan would extend the 3 train south to Kings Plaza. In all of my earlier plans I had extended the 4 train down Utica Ave but a closer inspection of how the tracks are aligned at the Utica Ave station shows that it would be much simpler to extend the local tracks south; the 4 express train would take over to New Lots Ave, which should also be extended south through the existing train yards to Spring Creek-Flatlands Ave to support the Spring Creek redevelopment. The Utica Ave Line would run in a tunnel until Rutland Rd where it would ascend and run on an elevated viaduct south to Kings Plaza. The viaduct would run along private land to be taken by eminent domain and designed so that future private development could be built around it. This is the only economical way to build the line and one that would use direct land resale to offset costs.

Map detail showing rebuilt 149th St Junction and new 145 St station.
Map detail showing rebuilt 149th St Junction and new 145 St station.

At 145th St in Harlem the 2 train peels off into the Bronx while the 3 terminates at 148th St. The 145th St station, due to the junction with the 2 train, could not be extended to fit longer train sets. At Grand Concourse the 5 merges with the 2 on a tight S-curve. A new alignment would remedy both bottlenecks. Beginning at 138th St at Lenox Ave the tracks of the 2/3 would drop down and run to a new station built below the current 145th St station which would be large enough for a full train set (The current station would still exist but only be used to connect trains to the 148th St Yards and the 148th St terminal would be closed to passengers except for the odd shuttle service). The new tunnel would swing under the Harlem River to 150th St where it would split with the 2 train connecting to the existing 149th-Grand Concourse station and the 3 train swinging up to merge with the 4 train under Franz Sigel Park. The 5 train merge would be rebuilt so it would occur between Grand Concourse and 3rd Ave stations so that the curve of the tunnel would allow for much faster/smoother merges. Service on the White Plains Rd Line (2/5 trains) would be sped up and the 3 train would allow for double the service on the Jerome Ave Line (4 train) up to Bedford Park Blvd-Lehman College where the 3 would terminate (the junction between the main line and yard tracks would also have to be rebuilt to eliminate grade crossings). Furthermore between 161st-Yankee Stadium and 167th St the track bed of the line expands where the 9th Ave elevated line once merged. This extra space would then be used for layup tracks so that 3 trains could terminate late night at Yankee Stadium. This 3/4 train pairing would mimic the 2/5 pairing and allow for service adjustments on the fly.

Rockaway Branch Line and IND Queens Blvd Line Extensions

Having only one trunk line subway serving the heart of Queens is a major problem but even worse is that because it was designed to have branches the trunk line doesn’t run efficiently. Famously the Archer Ave Subway extension of the E train was designed to run southeast to Laurelton along the LIRR Atlantic Branch ROW and so the current terminal at Parsons Blvd was not designed to deal with current demand; at rush hour there are a number of E trains which must run out of 179th St. With the addition of the 63rd St Tunnel in 2001 there are even more branches feeding into the Queens Blvd Line which are forced to terminate at Forest Hills or in Jamaica; with two Manhattan-bound local trains terminating at Forest Hills-71st Ave there is no room to run Crosstown G trains past Court Sq. Extending existing branches and building new ones will actually improve overall service along the line but it needs to be done correctly.

Map detail showing Laurelton E train extension and Archer Ave Subway extension to Merrick Blvd.
Map detail showing Laurelton E train extension and Archer Ave Subway extension to Merrick Blvd.

The two most important and needed extensions are the E southeast to Laurelton-Springfield Blvd along the existing LIRR ROW (the subway would actually replace the LIRR service which would be shifted east through St. Albans). This would allow for a proper terminal that would easily handle to high demand along the E line and include a new train yard/shops at a plot of land known today as Railroad Park (which was left as a space for future train storage). The second extension would be off the local track at 63rd St-Rego Park and run along the Rockaway Branch ROW to connect with the A train to the Rockaways. Currently the best set up would be for the M train to make this run but with the addition of the Queens Superexpress Line from the 63rd St Tunnel along the LIRR Main Line to Rego Park the Rockaway Line would offer both local (via Queens Blvd) and express service with trains to 6th Ave and 2nd Ave. (On the service map shown I have 6th Ave H trains running express from 63rd St to Rockaway Park and 2nd Ave V local trains terminating at Liberty Ave. Actual service would depend on demand.)

Map detail showing 2nd Ave-Queens Blvd-Rockaway Branch service and connection to Superexpress-Rockaway service.
Map detail showing 2nd Ave-Queens Blvd-Rockaway Branch service and connection to Superexpress-Rockaway service.

These branches not only offer new service to under served areas of the city but also free up terminal space along Queens Blvd at Forest Hills and 179th St. This allows for the return of the Crosstown G train to run to Forest Hills. A future extension of the Hillside Ave Subway from 179th St to Queens Village-Springfield Blvd should also be looked at do to the high demand coming from bus transfers. Both the E train extension and the Superexpress-Rockaway Branch Line extension would be above ground along existing ROWs to reduce costs. A Hillside Ave Subway extension would be costlier because of both tunneling construction and managing the high water table in the area. It might be possible to build an elevated line but the largely residential nature of the area would discourage this.

Map detail of Hillside Ave Subway extension.
Map detail of Hillside Ave Subway extension.

Franklin Ave Subway – K Train

Map detail of the Franklin Ave Subway connecting the Crosstown Line to the Brighton Beach Line.
Map detail of the Franklin Ave Subway connecting the Crosstown Line to the Brighton Beach Line.
The Franklin Av Subway is a short extension of the Franklin Ave Shuttle which would connect the Brighton Beach Line (B/Q) to the Crosstown (G) at Bedford-Nostrand Avs. When the IND proposed their version of the Utica Ave Subway in 1929 it ran longer than the IRT version, the one I proposed above, and was designed as a north-south artery through Brooklyn from South 4th St to Flatbush Ave. While the need is still there for better north-south connections the costs of the full IND proposal would be prohibitive and the additional service redundant. Because of the way each line was built they are both forced to run below capacity even through there is growing demand. By utilizing excess capacity along both lines the new service offers a true north-south train service that creates a bypass around downtown Brooklyn and lower Manhattan as well as giving riders coming from southern and eastern Brooklyn a direct line up to north Brooklyn and Long Island City. Growth along the G through Williamsburg and Bed-Stuy has exploded in recent years but G train is currently capped at at most 15tph which it rarely meets due to sharing tracks with the Manhattan-bound F train. The new service (K train) would run about 10tph and G trains about 10-12tph. This would give the bulk of the Crosstown Line 20-22tph (the Lafayette Ave section parallels the Fulton St Line close enough that the capping of the G train at 10tph would not have a detrimental impact and the existing layup tracks past Bedford-Nostrand station could be used for peak short runs between Church Ave and Bedford-Nostrand). Along the Brighton Beach Line the K would run local with the Q and 2nd Ave trains (T) would run express.

Because the Crosstown Line was never designed to terminate at Court Sq all Crosstown trains would need to be run out to Forest Hills. As I outlined above with the addition of CBTC the Queens Blvd Line can handle such an extension of existing G train service. With both G and K trains now extended from Court Sq some trains would need to run express along side the E and F trains. The Crosstown K Express would terminate at Jamaica-179th St and allow for rush hour F trains to run express all the way to 179th St; local service past Forest Hills has never been popular due to riders switching to overcrowded express trains so making the extra Crosstown service express would pick any slack. Night time service would be reduced to a shuttle between Bedford-Nostrand and Prospect Park unless it proved more popular than the G train.

Map detail of Queens Plaza area showing additional Crosstown service via Franklin Ave running express to 179th St.
Map detail of Queens Plaza area showing additional Crosstown service via Franklin Ave running express to 179th St.

Second Stage Expansions

Bushwick-Queens Trunk Line

Way back in my very first futureNYCSubway series I proposed bringing back the the gargantuan South 4th St Subway with connections to 2nd Ave, 6th Ave, and 8th Ave via Worth St, as well as branches out to central Queens, Utica Ave, and Broadway Junction. Thinking big is fun but reality has a way to raining on your parade. But the need for better transit to Williamsburg is as important as ever (how we all wish now that at least one of those IND tunnels had been built) and more importantly is cross-borough connections. Better Brooklyn-Queens and Queens-Bronx connections are needed and at the same time the East River crossings between Queens and Manhattan are reaching their capacity. With a 2nd Ave service using the 63rd St Tunnel all the tunnels above 42nd St will be maxed out. The new Bushwick-Queens Trunk Line is a staged plan which will try to address these issues and more in the most affordable way I can think of.

Map detail of Bushwick-Queens Trunk Line Phase 1: New East River tunnel and South 4th St Subway.
Map detail of Bushwick-Queens Trunk Line Phase 1: New East River tunnel and South 4th St Subway.

As part of the 2nd Ave Subway plan I outlined above I mentioned shifting the 6th Ave express trains from the Manhattan Bridge through a new East River tunnel to Williamsburg. This is Phase 1. This new 2 track tunnel will continue east under Houston St with a station between Clinton St/Ave B and Pitt St/Ave C then make a southeastern turn through the Baruch Houses along a path with will run under existing open space to where Rivington St would meet the FDR Dr. Headed under the East River to South 4th St to a station between Berry St and Bedford Av and then running to Union Ave where it will terminate using the existing South 4th St station shell at Broadway on the G.

Map detail of Bushwick-Queens Trunk Line Phase 2:  Express and Local trains connecting Bushwick to Woodhaven Blvd-Queens Center.
Map detail of Bushwick-Queens Trunk Line Phase 2: Express and Local trains connecting Bushwick to Woodhaven Blvd-Queens Center.

Phase 2 extends the line from Union Ave where will split into a 2 track tunnel under Johnson Ave, which will run past Bushwick Ave (with a transfer to the Montrose Ave L train station) and then ascend and run above ground along the existing freight ROW from Morgan Ave to Flushing Ave acting as express tracks. A 4 track tunnel (space for 4 but only 2 will be built for this stage) will run from Union Ave to Myrtle Ave along Broadway. At Broadway and Myrtle a 2 track tunnel, the local tracks, will run under Myrtle Ave to a Cypress Ave where it will turn northeast under Gates Ave and then north under Forest Ave where it will run to Metropolitan Ave, turn north under 60th St and continue to Flushing Ave meeting up with the express tracks. The now 4 track subway will run northeast under Flushing Ave and Grand Ave to 57 Ave where it will continue east under the Long Island Expressway to Queens Blvd. At Queens Blvd the local tracks will terminate and provisions will be left for the express tracks to extend further east. At this point Woodhaven Blvd station will be converted into an express station. This phase will allow for the removal of the elevated Myrtle Ave Line tracks out to the existing Metropolitan Ave terminal. Non revenue tracks will connect the new subway to the existing Fresh Pond Yards.

Map detail of Bushwick-Queens Trunk Line Phase 3: Express extension along Long Island Expressway to Springfield Blvd.
Map detail of Bushwick-Queens Trunk Line Phase 3: Express extension along Long Island Expressway to Springfield Blvd.

Phase 3 will extend the express tracks east along the Long Island Expressway. The most affordable solution is to run them along a concrete elevated viaduct running along the median of the highway much the same way the AirTrain runs long the Van Wyck Expressway. The line will be 2 tracks with island platform stations. The most difficult part of this stage will be placing the needed train yard/shops. While there is space inside Cunningham and Alley Pond Parks it would most likely cause a backlash against the project so it might be possible to build a yard either above or below the interchange between the Long Island and Clearview Expressways. Alternatively the yard could be placed underground around Francis Lewis Blvd where there is abundant park space that could be restored after.

The first three phases replace the existing Myrtle Ave elevated line and create a new express subway for central Queens which bypasses Long Island City and midtown Manhattan but also connects to the Queens Blvd Line should riders need to transfer. This line serves a large swath of the city far from the subway and takes pressure off of midtown transfer stations. Removing the Myrtle Ave elevated will mean that J/Z trains will no longer have to wait for M trains to switch in front of them at Myrtle Ave which will greatly speed up service.

Map detail of Bushwick-Queens Trunk Line Phase 4: Broadway and Jamaica Ave Subways with expanded East NY train yards.
Map detail of Bushwick-Queens Trunk Line Phase 4: Broadway and Jamaica Ave Subways with expanded East NY train yards.

Phase 4 would radically change the Jamaica Line and is left for last as the existing elevated structure (which is already some of the oldest continually used transit infrastructure in the city) will reach the end of its useful life. The Jamaica Line is seeing spillover growth as gentrification moves east along the L train and by the time the first three stages of the B-Q Trunk is opened the demand should be in place to expand. The forth stage has three parts to be built at the same time: extending the 4 track subway from Broadway and Myrtle Aves to Broadway Junction, expanding the existing East NY Yards of the J train so it can handle longer trains, and connecting the tracks of the Williamsburg Bridge to the South 4th St Subway at Havermeyer St. The grade from the bridge to the subway will be a bit steeper than the trains on the Manhattan side of the bridge face so it is possible that the highway ramps on the bridge will have to be moved in order to fit the portal. This connection means that the elevated track from the bridge to Broadway Junction can be completely removed and that northern Brooklyn and central Queens will each have train pairs to take them either downtown to Chambers St or to midtown via 6th Ave.

Map detail of Bushwick-Queens Trunk Line Phase 5: 6th Ave trains along Jamaica Line and Centre St trains along Atlantic Ave express tracks to Merrick Blvd.
Map detail of Bushwick-Queens Trunk Line Phase 5: 6th Ave trains along Jamaica Line and Centre St trains along Atlantic Ave express tracks to Merrick Blvd.

The fifth and final phase will extend the local tracks from Broadway Junction under Jamaica Ave to a new portal at Crescent St/Jamaica Ave to connect with the existing elevated tracks at Cypress Hills station. The S-curve along Crescent St is a major bottleneck on the J/Z train which necessitates slow travel and increased wear and tear on the trains. Removing this section and replacing it with a subway with only 2 stations (replacing 5 stations which are rather close together) will improve service drastically. The express tracks will be extended south to Atlantic Ave where they will run superexpress to Jamaica along the LIRR Atlantic Ave Line which is slated to be turned into a shuttle once East Side Access opens to Grand Central Terminal. The superexpress tracks will connect to the lower level of the Archer Ave Subway which itself will be extended one station to the east to Merrick Blvd where a larger terminal station will be built to handle the multiple service.

An additional part of this expansion would be to replace the elevated L train tracks over Broadway Junction and reroute the L through the existing freight tunnel which runs parallel to the L. Between the Wilson Ave and Bushwick-Aberdeen stations the L would connect to the other tunnel and bypass Bushwick-Aberdeen (which would be abandoned), a new station would be built under Broadway Junction connecting the new J station to the existing A/C station, then it would surface in the trench below the existing elevated tracks and run to New Lots Ave where it would connect back to the elevated tracks. The Atlantic Ave and Sutter Ave stations would be replaced by a single station at Pitkin Ave.

Abandoned LIRR East NY station showing the tunnel portal which runs below Broadway Junction.  This could be rehabilitated to serve L train service.
Abandoned LIRR East NY station showing the tunnel portal which runs below Broadway Junction. This could be rehabilitated to serve L train service.

What will then exist is a brand new system which replaces the bottlenecks of the elevated Jamaica Line with a modern subway that better serves the needs of Brooklyn and Queens riders. The staged construction schedule allows for immediate relief of current congestion in Williamsburg while ridership grows further out. Riders from Jamaica will have a one seat express ride to lower Manhattan as well as a one seat ride to midtown for riders who live in Woodhaven, East New York, and Richmond Hill. Williamsburg, Bed-Stuy and Bushwick will lose their elevated trains and gain better options than only the L train. Central Queens will get an express train to lower Manhattan and a second alternative to midtown avoiding the congested LIC-Midtown tunnels. Built in stages the system can also be adjusted as new demand surfaces as once fast new inter-borough connections are opened riders will have new options about where they live and work.

PATH to Staten Island

Map detail showing Staten Island PATH branch connecting to existing PATH network.
Map detail showing Staten Island PATH branch connecting to existing PATH network.

In my last futureNYCSubway update I laid out a plan for using a new Cross-Harbor Tunnel to give Staten Island commuter rail access to greater New York City. With the recent plans for the new Amtrak “Gateway Tunnel” under the Hudson River to an expanded Penn Station coming in at at least $14 billion it would seem that any cross harbor tunnel, which would serve a fraction of the ridership and freight tonnage, would be of similar cost (while a large chunk of the Gateway Tunnel cost is actually for non tunnel infrastructure like expanding Penn Station any tunnel to Staten Island and New Jersey would require expensive support infrastructure as well so costs, while less than Gateway, would still be significant). Because of current bottlenecks in downtown Brooklyn any subway tunnel to Staten Island via Brooklyn (or Manhattan for that matter) would be either detrimental to current service or require expensive new tunneling before any underwater tunnel could be built.

Map detail showing new Staten Island PATH branch running to Staten Island via the recaptured Hudson-Bergen Light Rail line.
Map detail showing new Staten Island PATH branch running to Staten Island via the recaptured Hudson-Bergen Light Rail line.
Another option which has been floated around is extending the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail from Bayonne, NJ over the Bayonne Bridge to give Islanders access to job centers in NJ and, with a transfer to PATH, midtown. This seems like more trouble than it’s worth given that any subway to Staten Island needs to offer a one seat ride to Manhattan in order to justify the expense. The HBLR is a great way to get around Hoboken, Jersey City, and Bayonne but the transfers to the PATH limit the effectiveness of the service in terms of getting cars off roads and tunnels.

This leaves the PATH train as the only service which could easily handle expansion and offers a one seat ride to both midtown and downtown Manhattan. At first glance it may seem odd that New Yorkers from Staten Island would want to travel through New Jersey to get to Manhattan but that is taking a NY/MTA-centric view of what is a regional transportation problem. Islanders travel through New Jersey regularly via the Port Authority owned Bayonne, Geothals, and Outerbridge crossings. A PATH extension would also take cars off the bridges by offering direct transit access to job centers outside of Manhattan in Jersey City and Newark (and possibly Liberty Airport should that extension ever be built). These factors give more weight to a Port Authority built project than to an MTA or NYC related extension.

The key to keeping the extension affordable is using the HBLR tracks from Communipaw station to 22nd St. The Port Authority would purchase the tracks from the HBLR; the West Side Branch would be kept in operation but the single track 8th St terminal in Bayonne would be abandoned. The stations would be expanded to fit PATH trains (with high level ADA compliant platforms and the line could either be converted to third rail power OR new dual power trains could be purchased which switch from third rail power to overhead catenary power similar to how Blue Line trains work in Boston. At the north end a new tunnel would be built connecting the PATH along Christopher Columbus Dr to Communipaw. To avoid a bottle neck at Grove St where trains switch from Hoboken/33rd St and WTC bound tracks the new connection would expand Grove St station to 4 tracks with 2 island platforms. At 22nd St in Bayonne the line would wind east and follow the freight cutoff tracks through Constable Hook where it would diver below the Kill Van Kull into a deep bored tunnel to Richmond Terrace at St. George. The SI PATH line would most likely terminate at 33rd St as the SI Ferry would still provide fast service to lower Manhattan. A PATH line to SI would also be a boon for Bayonne as a one seat ride to Manhattan would property values.

Third Stage Expansion

IRT Nostrand Ave Extension

With the construction of the Utica Ave Subway the Nostrand Ave Line (2/5 trains) would see ridership relief so an extension south is less important. The biggest issue facing the Nostrand Ave Line is capacity at Flatbush Ave-Brooklyn College as the station was not designed to be a terminal, an extension south was planned but never built. Extending the line south would address the terminal capacity issue and give residents of southeastern Brooklyn an alternative to the Brighton Beach Line. An extension south would be on the expensive side; the line would have to be in a tunnel the entire route due to the densely developed residential neighborhoods in the area and the tunnel would need to be designed to deal with the high water table in the area. The most economical extension would be to Kings Highway with a possible station at Ave K. The terminal at Kings Highway would have modern storage tracks past the station which allows for more trains per hour to be turned and run.

IND Concourse Line Extension to Coop City

Map detail showing IND Concourse Line D train extension east to Co Op City.
Map detail showing IND Concourse Line D train extension east to Co Op City.

While the Bronx has some of the best subway coverage per borough there are still some holes that need addressing. Because the 2nd Ave Subway is not being built with an express track the options for new service in the Bronx is limited. The only line that can be realistically extended is the IND Concourse Line which was designed for an extension east after Norwood-205 St. The extension was originally rendered moot when the city bought the Dyre Ave Line from the NY, Westchester & Boston RR. The Dyre Ave Line would best be served by extending the Q up from 2nd Ave so that 5 trains no longer have to split service between it and the more heavily used White Plains Rd Line. With the opening of Co Op City there was talk of extending the 6 train from Pelham Bay Park to service the new development but I feel that extending the D train, while more expensive, would ultimately serve the Bronx better. The Bx12 Select Bus Service was the first BRT style service the MTA opened between Co Op City and Inwood-207 St and has proven a massive success. The need for better cross-Bronx service is clear however the costs associated with building any kind of cross-Bronx subway are prohibitive; an ideal cross-Bronx line would connect as many lines as possible and be best located around either 149th or 161st streets. An extension of the Concourse Line would parallel the Bx12 service from Coop City to Fordham Rd as well as connect to the Dyre Ave Q train, White Plains Rd 2/5 trains and Jerome Ave 4 train, finally connecting the A at 145th St. While not perfect it would be the most economical crosstown type subway service.

IRT Flushing Line Extension

Map detail showing extension alternatives for the IRT Flushing Line to Whitestone or College Point.
Map detail showing extension alternatives for the IRT Flushing Line to Whitestone or College Point.

Flushing being the major transit hub that it is needs an extension of the 7 train east to reduce the bevy of bus lines that terminate in downtown Flushing. Extending the line east to Northern Blvd would probably suffice but an extension north to Whitestone should be considered. While College Point is more densely developed than Whitestone extending the 7 train north from Flushing-Main St would be complicated and expensive. The best route for the extension in terms of bus line and population density would be along Parsons Blvd but an extension further east along 154th St would better server all of Flushing. A 154th St alignment may run into more resistance from the more suburban residents of Murray Hill and Whitestone so it’s hard to say which alignment would be best. With the opening of East Side Access the Port Washington Branch LIRR which runs through Flushing will see more trains run and also trains terminating at Grand Central Terminal. Because of this and also the possible implementation of the proposed Freedom Pass (which is very much in concept phase at this point) any extension of the 7 train to Bayside, as originally proposed, would be needlessly redundant.

10th Ave L train

Far West Side development will be adequately served buy the 7 train at 34th St-Hudson Yards for some time. The issue won’t be that the 7 train can’t handle the crowds but can Times Sq and Grand Central handle the transfers. These are the most heavily used stations in the entire system and transferring at either can be intimidating and time consuming. As the Far West Side starts to build out an extension of the L train from 14th St should be considered as a second option for riders to transfer. Additionally an extension of the L, even only as far as 34th St, would allow for a new high capacity terminal to be built which would allow the L train to fully utilize CBTC which was installed but is capped due to the por layout of the current terminal at 8th Ave.

Service Changes

It’s hard to predict how ridership will react to all the service changes proposed but there are smaller improvements which will only be applicable if these expansion projects move forward. When 6th Ave express trains are rerouted to Williamsburg via South 4th St the need for the current 6th Ave M train will disappear. In my plan I’ve replaced the M with the H train as it would be extended to Rockaway Park, traditionally home to the H train. The H, running local along 6th Ave, is now free to provide extra service along the IND Culver Line (F/G). Local politicians have been calling for express F train service for years even though the numbers don’t justify it. Adding an extra service would allow the H train to run express or even day time local while the F runs day time express and night time local.

With the reorganization of the Broadway Line and Queens Blvd branches, Queens-bound riders on the Lexington Ave Line will have to change where they transfer. Combined with the planned growth of Midtown East it would be beneficial to build new express platforms at the 51 St station where the Lexington and the 53rd St Lines meet. Adding express platforms on the three major midtown stations on Lexington Line would reduce the need for local-express transfers at congested stations like Grand Central and 59th St. This has precedent as the express platforms at 59th/Lex were added in 1962 for this very purpose. Riders transferring to Queens-bound trains would be segregated by station: 7 train at Grand Central, E/F at 53rd St, and R at 59th St (with the free connection to 63rd St there is also the transfer to the N to Forest Hills).

The plan is not perfect for all since returning the F to the 53rd St tunnel would require a rider to transfer to the G train at Queens Plaza in order to reach any of the local stations between Queens Plaza and Roosevelt Ave. This reduction of service would be offset with the introduction of the 2nd Ave V local train which would use the 63rd St Tunnel; thus any rider coming from Midtown East could avoid the Lexington-Queens transfer all together and just take one train, the V, between work and home. Again, this kind of radical service change will cause some confusion at first but in the long run will better reduce congestion and give riders more options.

The Bushwick-Queens Trunk Line would reconfigure how the Jamaica Line serves riders by turning it into a two-service superexpress line with M trains running to Woodhaven Blvd and on to Springfield Blvd and J trains running express to Broadway Junction and then to Jamaica Center via the LIRR Atlantic Ave Line which would be converted to subway service. The 6th Ave express trains would run local with B trains running along Myrtle Ave (replacing the current M train) and the D train taking over the currently local J train along Jamaica Ave. The assumption I’m making here is that the local lines would be better served by 6th Ave service as is evidenced by the growth along the M train when it was rerouted along 6th Ave in 2010. The J/M express trains would be focused on providing high speed service to lower Manhattan from central Queens neighborhoods which currently have hour plus commutes downtown. The transfer at Union Ave/South 4th St would also give these riders a fast alternative route into midtown via 6th Ave which would further reduce crowding though Queens-Manhattan tunnels. Track connections would also allow this configuration to be reversed if local residents find J/M local service more favorable and B/D trains would run express to Queens.

The proposed Freedom Pass would be the most economical way to expand service to underserved areas of the city by giving riders a discount on LIRR and Metro North stations within the city and offering a free transfer to the bus/subway network. When the subways were being built in the early 20th century they were done so with a healthy spirit of competition with the private railroads at the time. Now that all these services are under the umbrella of the state run MTA it only makes sense to strengthen the intranetwork connections. Expanding subways along existing LIRR and Metro North right-of-ways makes sense in terms of land acquisition costs but still requires expensive new infrastructure. Already the MTA is looking at new Metro North stations along the Amtrak-Northeast Corridor through eastern Bronx. As I noted above the 2nd Ave Subway lacks an express track which limits the amount of new service it can provide to the Bronx. With the addition of new stations on the White Plains Line a Freedom Pass could offer an affordable alternative to expanding subway service. The 7 train famously was intended to be extended east to Bayside, Queens but with the Freedom Pass this extension would be useless as the Port Washington Branch LIRR would offer faster service to Grand Central and Penn Station than the 7 train.

Finally I’ve thrown in an expansion of the AirTrain which is partly based on Gov Cuomo’s plan for a new line from Willets Point to LaGuardia Airport (which I looked at a year ago). While I much prefer an extension of the Astoria Line I think a connection between the LaGuardia branch and JFK branches of the AirTrain would be an interesting way to create a cross-Queens transit line which would fill the gaps between the subways. The AirTrain, being its own system and costing an additional fee, could serve cross-Queens riders better than an extension of any subway line which would be hard to justify cost wise. Running along the Van Wyck Expressway and through Flushing Meadows Park the extension could be built for relatively cheap as it would not require expensive tunneling.

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Brooklyn Trolleys Can’t Fix Williamsburg Fri, 12 Feb 2016 00:26:14 +0000 Old Trolleycars, Red Hook
The past and future of the waterfront streetcars.

Proposed BQX Streetcar line.
Proposed BQX Streetcar line.
The transit blogs and op-eds in New York City have been abuzz recently with Mayor de Blasio’s somewhat out-of-left-field proposal to build a $2.5B streetcar line from Astoria through Long Island City, Greenpoint, Williamsburg, the Navy Yard, downtown Brooklyn, Red Hook and Sunset Park. The idea is to connect all the new waterfront development (current and planned) with a new transit service that would fill in the gaps where the subway doesn’t stop. I was quoted in a Brooklyn Eagle piece about the proposal coming out against it but since I was asked the question before I had time to drink my morning coffee I didn’t get to expand on my thoughts.

First and foremost let no one say this isn’t an interesting idea. Small cities across the country have revitalized (i.e. gentrified) once industrial areas with new transit thereby creating vibrant new neighborhoods. The idea is also, and most importantly, a political play which most likely won’t see the light of day. The Mayor and the Governor, Andrew Cuomo, very publicly do not get along and at this point seem to only talk to one another at staged photo ops when both absolutely must be together. The Governor ultimately calls the shots when it comes to the MTA and recently those shots seem to be bullets to the back of the head. The Governor refuses to invest in the MTA even when he runs around the city touting coming improvements (which equate to lipstick on a pig). This leaves the Mayor in a pretty helpless position when it comes to transit. After Cuomo’s transportation lap around the city last month the Mayor had to save face with something, anything, of his own. In the past he has proposed building the long dormant Utica Ave Subway (which we haven’t heard anything about since) and improved ferry service. The ferry service at least seems to be gaining some steam but much like this new proposal only helps the real estate interests which are rapidly changing the face of the waterfront. Being elected as a progressive reformer improving transit seems to be something de Blasio does actually care about but one he doesn’t have much power to affect.

The devil is in the details here which officially have not been released (if they even exist in the fist place), but it’s hard to see how a streetcar along the waterfront would be better than what we have now. The streetcar proposal is not a new one, famously Bob Diamond fought the city for years trying to build a short streetcar line from downtown Brooklyn to Red Hook (the trolleys he bought, long fixtures of the Red Hook waterfront, have just recently been removed). The only way for trolleys to be better than a bus line is for the trains to run along dedicated rights-of-way. The streets along the waterfront are not large arteries which could easily accommodate transit with a road diet and many have already been made thinner with the addition of dedicated bike lanes. The Select Bus Service lines the city has been trying to expand have run into very vocal resistance (mostly in the more suburban areas of Queens) due to the removal of parking. While the new residents of the waterfront may drive much less than those in Woodhaven, Queens, there would still need to be a significant removal of both parking and bike lanes in order to make this work.

The second question which would determine how successful such a system would be how it integrates with the current transportation network. Transit does not exist in a vacuum, it requires a network for the user to derive the most benefit from it; Otherwise you’d just walk, bike, or drive. Because the streetcar would be run by the city there is no guarantee that there would be a free transfer to subway or bus lines. Much like how the PATH and MTA interact there would be a separate fare (which was how things operated when the subways were private companies competing with one another). This means the streetcar would only help people who live and work along the line. Even with new growth this would be a small fraction of overall city transit riders. New systems from the ground up have had mixed results in the US, the worst offender being the Washington DC system which was once planned as a 7.2m line but was truncated to just 2.4m when costs skyrocketed. The line began construction in 2009 and still has not opened. Even when it does it will not even run through neighborhoods it was designed to serve and unless it is connected to the Metro will turn out to be nothing more than an expensive toy.

Trolley Plaza at the Williamsburg Bridge.
Trolley Plaza at the Williamsburg Bridge.

Ironically there were once thousands of streetcars crisscrossing Brooklyn (dodging trolleys led to the Brooklyn baseball team being named the Brooklyn Dodgers). The Williamsburg Bridge itself once had 4 streetcar tracks on it and when opened served more trains than automobiles. Times changed and the tracks were removed for more space for cars. Today the trolley terminal at Essex St is being considered for an underground park space. The streetcar that the Mayor should be talking about is one which runs over the Williamsburg Bridge to a rehabilitated terminal but given the auto traffic on the bridge today that will never happen. The need for improved transit along the waterfront is obvious and will only increase as new developments in Greenpoint and the Domino Sugar complex begin to open. New bus lines are the only affordable short term option and where possible bus lanes should be introduced.

The streetcar idea is also part of a larger problem, the lack of any centralized planning for the NYC waterfront redevelopment. The city, not wanting to waste taxpayer dollars with a planning department that actually has any power, has spent the last 15 years rezoning the waterfront so that private developers could foot the bill for new infrastructure and parks. Unlike with the extension of the 7 Line to Hudson Yards, the city was content to let Williamsburg grow on its own without working with the MTA to facilitate growth. The streetcar is a band aid on this problem as a decade of growth with no planning has led to overcrowded subways. The MTA is faced with a problem that it was never designed to deal with: ridership growth. Since its inception in 1968 the MTA has been working to stop the hemorrhaging of riders. It has pumped billions in rehabilitating a once famously dilapidated system. I get the feeling that the people who run the MTA are still living in the bad old days; this is a new era and we need new leadership.

This brings us to the news that the MTA needs to shut down the Canarsie Tubes, the tunnels that carry the L Train between Manhattan and Brooklyn, and their poor handling of community outreach. The city and MTA have made, what I consider, paltry improvements to the transit situation in northern Brooklyn given the historic growth over the last decade. Even rerouting the M train was done so not because it was a planned improvement but because of budget cuts and the removal of the V Train. While it is true the L Train was the first to undergo CBTC conversion this had more to do with the fact that it runs entirely on its own line and would not require multiple branch integration (and thus easier and cheaper to build as a pilot program). The city and the MTA have sat back and reaped the benefits of a decade of growth and been content to let riders suffer

G Train transfer points; No transfer at J/M/Z
G Train transfer points; No transfer at J/M/Z
There were many basic, affordable improvements they could have undertaken such as adjusting the bus network and creating a free transfer between the J/M/Z at Hewes St and the G at Broadway (given the technical limitations of the MetroCard the MTA claims that it could not track who was making the transfers and it would lose money.) The MTA spend hundreds of millions of dollars building new physical transfers between Jay St-MetroTech on the A/C/F and the Lawrence St station on the R, the 6 and B/D/F/M at Bleecker St/Broadway-Lafayette, all the platforms at Court Sq, and most expensively the Fulton St complex. They didn’t see the need for building a connection between the J/M/Z and G which is the Achilles Heel of the Crosstown Line; the G train was designed as a circumferential service and only works when it connects to all radial lines. The G was designed to connect to the never built South 4th St Subway which would have replaced the elevated J/M/Z. There is not much more capacity on the L Train but there is on the J/M/Z and a free, physical transfer at Union and Broadway would make a huge dent in congestion on the L and if they had thought to build it over the last decade the debacle of the Canarsie Tube shutdown would be much more manageable.

New transfer between E/M/G subway and 7 elevated trains at Court Sq. A new station at Union Ave/Broadway on the J/M/Z would allow a free physical transfer between the two lines.

The disinvestment and poor planning in northern Brooklyn is finally coming home to roost. The MTA has known that the Canarsie Tubes would have to be shut down since Hurricane Sandy knocked them out in 2012. They waited this long because they knew it was going to be the most difficult rehabilitation to pull off and in that time they never bothered to reach out to the city or community to work on a long term plan. In all of my futureNYCSubway plans I’ve included a new tunnel between Manhattan and Williamsburg based on historical proposals. Even if the city was serious about building a new tunnel it would not be done in time to help the L Train shutdown. Running more 6th Ave trains to Williamsburg will help but because options for 6th Ave service are very limited due to existing capacity constraints. The needs of north Brooklyn and the waterfront have changed dramatically because the city pushed it along with new zoning but the lack of real investment on their part is finally coming to a head. What will happen when the new well-off residents finally demand change? The leaders we have, city, state, and MTA, haven’t just dropped the ball, they’ve kicked it into another yard and don’t want to be bothered to retrieve it. Ferries and streetcars are toys for the rich new waterfront residents compared with the real needs of commuters.

Flooded subway tunnel during Hurricane Sandy. Source: Wikipedia

When I talk to people about the L Train shutdown what I’m most shocked by is how they don’t even believe the shutdown is necessary. Every tunnel south of 53rd St has been shut down at some point for rehabilitation so those riders who question the need for this shutdown ought to put down their iPhones and pick up a newspaper. The need is real and the options are pretty bad. The MTA has done a terrible job so far when it comes to public relations. Historically we only seem to make the big, required changes when something catastrophic hits. Sandy was that wake up call and now the city needs to rethink how it approaches development, transportation, and investment.

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The futureNYCSubway: Manhattan-bound G Train Wed, 30 Sep 2015 02:11:34 +0000
Brooklyn Loop Lines

Imagine if you lived in Greenpoint and could get to Times Sq on one train? Or if you lived in Bed-Stuy and didn’t have to use the L to get home?

The G train was designed to be the Brooklyn to Queens local train that would be a counterpart to the 8th Ave and 6th Ave subways in Manhattan. The thought at the time was that there would be enough ridership between downtown Brooklyn and Queens to justify having the G train be the only local train running along the Queens Blvd subway but ridership never panned out. Because the tunnels for the G train were designed so that it could ONLY run between Queens and Brooklyn the line has always acted as a circumferential commuter sifter; riders use it to transfer to Manhattan bound trains at key points. The Independent Subway had planned a massive transfer station at Union and South 4th St where riders on the G could, at one station, transfer to trains headed to 8th, 6th, and 2nd Aves. This major expansion never took place (though the shell station at Broadway still exists). Because of this passengers are limited to transferring at Hoyt-Schermerhorn Sts to reach downtown Manhattan, to the L train at Metropolitan Ave to reach 14th St and then transfer again to get to Midtown, or to change at Court Sq to the 7, E and M trains to reach Midtown.

There are two things keeping the G train from running into Manhattan: First is the fact that the tracks along the Crosstown Line don’t allow the trains to enter Manhattan without some fancy and disruptive turning around; For some unknown reason the tracks at Hoyt-Schermerhorn station between the Crosstown Line and the Fulton St Line (A/C trains) don’t even have a cross-over. This would have at least allowed 8th Ave trains to run directly to Bedford-Nostrand Avs. Second is that there is no real extra capacity in Manhattan for the G train without a new subway. While the 2nd Ave subway will be adding new capacity, that is IF they build it south of 63rd St, it won’t be ideal for a G train loop since the 2nd Ave subway does not intersect most of the other Manhattan trunk lines.

If strategic connections are built then the G train could utilize existing capacity within Manhattan that would allow for riders to be better distributed off the G train and take pressure off of the two current transfer points. I’m proposing two new loop lines, the GD through Downtown and GM through Midtown. Not too long ago the NYC Subway featured trains with double letters indicating local or specific services.

Downtown Loop Subway

Map of proposed Downtown-Crosstown Loop.
Map of proposed Downtown-Crosstown Loop.

In 1912 the New York State Public Service Commission was tasked with finding routes for new subways throughout New York City. The need for improved transit between Brooklyn and Manhattan was apparent and the Commission looked at many different routes. Because of the way Brooklyn is laid out simple radial lines from Manhattan through Bedford-Stuyvesant would be difficult to build in a way that would be most effective serve the most number of riders. Because of this the Commission proposed a series of subway loops which would run along 14th St and Delancey St in Manhattan, run to Brooklyn via a new tunnel and the Williamsburg Bridge, and via two trunk subways run through Williamsburg, Bushwick, and Bedford-Stuyvesant before turning west to downtown Brooklyn and lower Manhattan, then head back uptown. The Interborough Rapid Transit Co. and the Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit Co., which were given dual contracts to build the new subways, built the parts of the plan that they saw as having the highest ridership (14th St subway and a loop via the Williamsburg Bridge) but rejected the trunk subways through Williamsburg and Bedford-Stuyvesant. When then Independent Subway was built it incorporated part of the loop idea with the Crosstown Line but as I descried above they rejected any possibility of it looping through Manhattan.

Looping the G train through lower Manhattan would have a major impact on congestion at Jay St-MetroTech, Hoyt-Schermerhorn and Lorimer St/Metropolitan Av. These two stations are the only places to transfer from lower Manhattan to the Crosstown Line. Most riders need to transfer at least twice from lines in Manhattan to get to the G train. If the G train could loop through lower Manhattan and hit stations along the 7th Ave, Lexington Ave, and Broadway subways then only a single transfer would be needed and the more options would relieve congestion at the two current choke points.

Proposed track map showing how new Crosstown Loop Lines would connect Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Proposed track map showing how new Crosstown Loop Lines would connect Manhattan and Brooklyn.

The only place for the G train to loop through lower Manhattan is along the Centre St subway used by the J/Z trains. The subway was designed at a time when lower Manhattan was a booming manufacturing district but as these jobs left and moved to Midtown ridership along the Centre St subway dropped and today there are a second set of tracks an platforms between Chambers St and Essex St that are abandoned. What would be required to allow the G train to use these tracks would be a new tunnel under the East River between the Lower East Side and Williamsburg, as well as a new connection between the DeKalb Av station in downtown Brooklyn and the Crosstown Line.

The new East River tunnel would be the most expensive aspect of the plan but with ridership along the L train between Manhattan and Brooklyn at all time highs a new connection will be needed eventually. In the IND Second System plan for a subway to Utica Ave they planned a new subway from 2nd Ave/Houston St to South 4th St. This new tunnel would be an alternative version of this plan; a new subway connecting the 2nd Ave/Houston St station would run east under Houston St to Ave D (with a new station at Clinton St). At Ave D it would turn south and run through the Baruch Houses; in an odd twist of design the buildings of the Baruch Houses align so that a tunnel could be built through the project with no need for building relocation which would allow for a tunnel closer to South 4th St.

At the Delancey St/Essex St station a connection would require reconfiguring the station from 2 platforms with 3 tracks to 3 platforms with 4 tracks. The inner tracks would continue along the Williamsburg Bridge but the outer tracks (the existing northern Manhattan-bound track and the new southern Brooklyn-bound track) would tunnel under Delancey St along side of the Williamsburg Bridge and merge with the aforementioned East River tunnel. On the Brooklyn side the tunnel would run under South 4th St and up Borinquen Pl where a new junction would be built to connect with the G train. This new tunnel would also allow 6th Ave trains to run to Williamsburg and connect to a future subway to relieve the L train while it would also finally give the G train access to Manhattan.

Track map of downtown Brooklyn showing BMT and IND lines.
Track map of downtown Brooklyn showing BMT and IND lines.

When the IRT and BMT were building subways into downtown Brooklyn many were built with provisions for a connection to a subway under Lafayette Ave. Because it was the IND which finally did build a subway under Lafayette Ave, the G train, the provisions left were either destroyed or used for other connections. A G train loop coming from the Centre St subway would run down through Chambers St and Broad St where it would reenter Brooklyn via the Montague St tunnel (used by the N/R trains) and then on to DeKalb Ave. DeKalb Av station is a major junction between trains coming from the 4th Ave and Brighton Beach Lines headed to Manhattan via the Montague St tunnel and the Manhattan Bridge. Many different route configurations are possible and one which is not used today is for trains using the Montague St tunnel to connect to the Brighton Beach Line (this was used previously for M trains at one point). The two tracks that exist for this connection were actually built to connect to an elevated subway which ran down Fulton St. This connection was never built when it was decided to demolish the elevated all together and replace it with the Fulton St subway (A/C trains). It is these tracks which will be repurposed to connect the G back up with the Crosstown Line.

Proposed new track map of downtown Brooklyn showing DeKalb-Crosstown Line connection.
Proposed new track map of downtown Brooklyn showing DeKalb-Crosstown Line connection.

The only thing standing it the way of this is the Crosstown Line itself; the Fulton St station on the G train is right where any connection between DeKalb Av and the Crosstown Line would be built. Fulton St station would be demolished and a new track connection built with the Crosstown Line reusing the space of the old station. The IND, famous for overbuilding, placed the Lafayette Ave station on the C train literally one block away so Fulton St station ridership would be absorbed by the C train or at DeKalb Av.

This loop which I’ve described would allow the G train to hit every single major Manhattan trunk line in one go: riders coming from Brooklyn can get to Broadway at DeKalb Ave or transfer to 7th Ave and Lexington Ave trains at Borough Hall. Riders coming from Manhattan, especially uptown, no longer have to cram onto L trains but can transfer at Delancey St-Essex St, Canal St, Brooklyn Bridge, or Fulton St. Because the loop would use the existing capacity along the Centre St subway and share a new tunnel under the East River it would always be a piggyback service to radial lines into Manhattan. The new junction at Fulton St also means that G trains would continue to run to Church Ave and that riders in Bedford-Stuyvesant at stations with the highest ridership growth would see wait times halved as there would be twice as much service available. Extra track space and platforms as Chambers St and Bedford-Nostrand Avs allow for the loop to offer flexible service if ridership along one segment of the line is higher than the other.

Midtown Loop

Map of proposed Midtown-Crosstown Loop.
Map of proposed Midtown-Crosstown Loop.

While a downtown loop would be a boon for G train riders living in Bedford-Stuyvesant looking to get into Manhattan, it would leave riders from Greenpoint with virtually no improvements. The Centre St subway offers an affordable capacity for a loop but Midtown has less capacity to spare. Right now there are two trunk lines with unused capacity: the 8th Ave Line and the Broadway Line. The Broadway Line, however, will only have extra capacity for another year or so until the 2nd Ave Subway is opened when Q trains will be rerouted to 96th St/2nd Ave and, presumably, the W train will be resurrected between Astoria and lower Manhattan. This leaves the 8th Ave Line south of 53rd St with room for more service. With a new East River tunnel I outlined above a second loop from Greenpoint to 8th Ave could be designed.

At Borinquen Pl a second connection would be built between the South 4th subway and the Crosstown Line, this time headed north to Metropolitan Ave. As the line enters Long Island City the tunnel would split right before the 21 St-Van Alst station with a new connection to the 53rd St tunnel headed into Manhattan. Because the 53rd St tunnel is currently used by E and M trains some M trains would need to be rerouted through the 63rd St tunnel to the north. This would reduce service to Queens Plaza station but as M trains would continue to Forest Hills at 36th St the effect may be minimal.

Proposed track map showing how Crosstown Loop Lines would connect with the existing Crosstown Line in Williamsburg.
Proposed track map showing how Crosstown Loop Lines would connect with the existing Crosstown Line in Williamsburg.

Along 53rd St and south along 8th Ave there is enough capacity for this new G train loop. C or E trains may need to be routed along the express tracks but this won’t have a negative impact. Much of the ridership along 8th Ave in Midtown is local or requires a transfer at W4th St so the addition of the Crosstown Line won’t be noticed by much of the ridership there. Additionally a train that runs directly from 8th Ave to Broadway-Lafayette on Houston St will reduce the need for 8th Ave riders to transfer at W4th St. Using the local track connection between W4th and Broadway-Lafayette the loop will run to 2nd Ave where the Houston St subway will be extended as I described above to connect with the new East River tunnel.

This second loop would impact existing subways the way the lower Manhattan loop wouldn’t; the M train would be effected on both ends as it may need to be rerouted through 63rd St and south of W4th St. While M trains could then terminate at World Trade Center the 6th Ave-Myrtle Ave Line would be lost and this has seen a high growth in ridership ever since the M train was rerouted up 6th Ave in 2010. It may also be that because the Midtown Loop is much longer than the downtown one it wouldn’t offer as flexible of service; there are not easy places to terminate loop trains here as there are with the Downtown Loop. These issues could be overcome if ridership is high enough, which it might be one day as a slew of new high rise apartments are coming to the Greenpoint waterfront in the coming years.

Ideally the G train would be a piggyback service along radial lines entering into Manhattan (the way it is along the F train in in Carroll Gardens and the way it was along the IND Queens Blvd Line until service was cut back to Court Sq). The problem with reconfiguring the G train so that radial lines run along side it through Brooklyn is that then the radial lines need new subways through Williamsburg, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and Bushwick in order for the whole system to work; that is an expense the MTA is not even willing to study at this point. By enhancing the circumferential nature of the G train by creating loops into Manhattan the city can take advantage of existing capacity by building new connections that one day could be used for radial lines into Brooklyn but will see immediate use. In fact creating more transfer points along the G train will have an immediate impact on the L train and may even reduce the need for a new subway through Bushwick until much further into the future. Because the existing G train will still run between Court Sq and Church Ave riders will see an improvement in service without changing existing patters. In fact, because the G train only runs at about 7 min headways during peak hours today adding these two loop lines will halve that so riders out in Bedford-Stuyvesant or Greenpoint could see trains coming every 4 minuets at peak times.

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